The issue of the integration of internally displaced persons (IDPs) into local communities is still problematic for our country. The lack of integration is the issue not only for an older generation of IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also for those born in displacement. New generations of IDPs also suffer from this problem. Non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies and donors are trying to support and encourage integration, but the problem persists.
On 22 December 2010, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, working together with the Center for the Regional Development and Initiatives, hosted a public debate in Poti to discuss the barriers hindering the integration of local and IDP communities in Poti. The major part of the discussion was dedicated to the problems of IDP youth.
The main speakers were:
- Manon Basilaia, psychologist, who is herself an IDP from Abkhazia and works actively on issues of IDP integration.
- Manana Sanaia, philosopher, who has extensive experience of working with IDPs.
- Rusudan Khasia, Executive Director, Association Atinati. Association Atinati is a Zugdidi-based organization, established near the conflict zone of Abkhazia. Rusudan and her friends began working with IDPs immediately after the conflict in Abkhazia. They have now accumulated considerable experience working with IDPs.
The public discussion was attended by representatives of local non-governmental organizations, as well as the media. It is noteworthy that young members of the Poti Community Center, including youth from IDP families, participated actively in the discussion.
At last count there were 25 000 IDPs from Abkhazia living in Poti. After 17 years of the war in Abkhazia, the problem of their integration into the local community is still an issue. The discussion highlighted problems faced in particular by young IDPs in Poti.
Rusudan Khasia could not offer a straightforward answer to the question posed by participants of the debate: Did integration of IDP and local populations take place? She highlighted that there is no simple answer to such a question. “A significant part of the population lives with the sole hope of going back to Abkhazia. There is a lack of communication, a problem of communication between local and IDP populations. In the first years of displacement, the problem was especially acute among the IDP youth. The problem was manifested in various psychological problems and isolation. The language barrier was also significant. In practice the IDP youth speak only Mingrelian and Russian. They barely spoke Georgian. Psychological problems, including isolation, were observed among the youth. They showed neither an interest in nor willingness to communicate with the local youth. They were not able to adapt to the new environment. In recent years the situation has changed considerably. But the problem persists.”
Manon Basilaia focused her attention on problems related to communication: “The reason for the problem of integrating the local and the IDP youth lies in their families. In a family, when a child consistently hears stories of war, destitution and willingness to return, this of course effect the psyche such that s/he feels rejected and unable to find common interests with the local population. As a psychologist, however, I think that the willingness to return to one’s place of origin should become a stimulus, a motivating force to become stronger.”
Manana Sanaia spoke about differences in mentalities between the IDP and local populations. According to her, IDPs were constrained by a total failure of beliefs: “The failure of beliefs is the most difficult for anyone to bear. These people lived in an organized world with established relationships. Suddenly, they lost everything and were uprooted from their homes. The ethnic Georgian population of Abkhazia was very attached to Abkhazia, they had relatives in Abkhazia and weak links with the rest of Georgia. People lived in Abkhazia well or very well, economically they were well-off. Losing everything amounted to the failure of beliefs. These cataclysms can also be seen in the new generation and cause isolation from the local population.
Representatives from the media outlets present at the meeting also expressed their views. According to the journalist Lasha Zarginava, the hardship and poverty persistent in the country hindered integration. People have been struggling for survival. They did not have time to think about integration.
Iza Salakaia, a journalist from Radio Imedi, considers that aggression is present in both parts of the population (IDPs and locals). She thinks that integration should entail equal rights for both IDP and local populations; moreover the state policy towards both categories should be equitable.
Nana Tsulaia is a student of the Poti #1 Secondary School. She is an IDP. She speaks openly about the aggression she met from the local population: “I remember very well how one local lady one told me – you are a very good girl, but you have one defect – you are an IDP. This was a serious psychological trauma for me, which was difficult for me to handle.”
At the end of the discussion, one group of participants came to the conclusion that there still were problems with integration, and another was at least willing to consider that problems with integration still persisted.
Despite differences in opinions, participants came to the conclusion that it is necessary to do more to help IDPs overcome their complexes and improve communication through dialogue.
The public discussion was one such attempt to seek solutions to IDP problems, to raise awareness among youth and to encourage dialogue and build trust between the local and the IDP populations.
At the end of the discussion, participants noted that the discussion organized by the HBF was fruitful. They emphasized that they had obtained more information about the problems of IDPs from the invited speakers. Hearing different stories and opinions encouraged them to mobilize their forces and think about solutions to the problems of integration.