GEO

IDP evictions – explaining the real issues

20 January, 2011

The current evictions of IDPs in Tbilisi have dominated recent news, with ongoing protests and some opposition parties taking up the cause célèbre. The public perception is that the evictions are fundamentally unfair, yet most of the information available about this process does little to explain what is really happening. The government has not done much to clarify the issues either. As a result, the complex problems of a vulnerable group are politicized, generalized and misunderstood. The evictions are part of a process that began in August 2010 when several thousand IDP families living in 33 temporary shelters (and three collective centers) in Tbilisi were slated for eviction. After a large public outcry the process was temporarily halted while the international community, together with the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees (MRA), drew up a set of procedures to ensure that future evictions would be conducted fairly and within the scope of Georgian law. The procedures outline the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the eviction process by synthesizing relevant national legislation into a single document. They do not establish additional rights or guarantees for IDPs and national law provides few protections for tenants under threat of eviction. Nor do the procedures address post-eviction issues, especially those associated with the location of alternative housing such as access to educational and job opportunities in the new place of residence. This point was emphasized by Walter Kälin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs, during his visit to Tbilisi in September 2010. Approximately 600 families remaining in 21 temporary shelters across Tbilisi are slated for eviction under the new procedures. The distinction between temporary shelters and collective centers is an essential, but often misunderstood and overlooked, aspect of the current problem. Temporary shelters were set up for people fleeing the August 2008 war, whereas collective centers were legally established in 1996 to provide rights of residency to people displaced during the early 1990’s conflicts. Almost all the evictions from Tbilisi that dominate today’s headlines are of people living illegally in temporary shelters. They should not be confused with evictions from collective centers. In October we visited IDPs who were evicted from a temporary shelter on Machabeli Street in Tbilisi. They were first-wave IDPs who moved to the building after the August 2008 war. Before 2008 they had been living in rented apartments or with relatives in Tbilisi and held registration papers in these private places of accommodation. After they were evicted in August they were offered space in a renovated building in Potskho-Etseri in western Georgia but they refused to move there. Now they are renting space in Tbilisi. A handful of families who were evicted in August 2008 did accept a relocation offer to Potskho-Etseri. The building to which they were assigned was the former housing for workers building the Enguri dam and hydroelectric power plant. The Municipal Development Fund spent GEL 5.2 million (funded through the European Union) in 2010 to renovate 383 flats in three buildings of the complex. While we have not visited the site, numerous reports describe it as isolated and disconnected, lacking transport routes to urban centers, schools, shops, agricultural land or markets/job opportunities. Many IDPs facing eviction from temporary shelters will be offered this kind of “unacceptable” alternative housing. This is because, as first-wave IDPs registered in private accommodation, they only qualify for housing under a phase of the Housing Strategy that has not yet begun. Under this plan, many should eventually qualify for housing assistance in Tbilisi. The offers of Potskho-Etseri are for those who would be homeless after eviction, or who would not qualify for housing in Tbilisi because they were registered outside of the capital. The State Strategy and Action Plan prioritize housing for IDPs in collective centers first for pragmatic reasons: it is easier and more cost efficient to renovate a collective center than it is to provide individual housing solutions to tens of thousands of privately-accommodated IDPs dispersed across the country. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to generalize about which IDPs are better or worse off based on type of accommodation. While a 2008 study commissioned by the Danish Refugee Council and Swiss Development Agency found that IDPs in collective centers face greater housing problems than IDPs in the private sector, a 2010 study by the same organization found that 25 percent of IDPs in private accommodation in Samegrelo region lived in “very bad” housing conditions. Because IDP registration data is outdated, inaccurate and unreliable, the MRA has not solely relied upon it to grant housing to first-wave IDPs, claiming instead to base decisions on the principle of “factual place of residence”. But in the case of evictions from temporary shelters, “factual residence” does not earn an IDP the right of residence. To our knowledge, there is no law or guiding document that would establish specific rules for the application of this principle. From an IDP’s perspective, that can seem quite unfair. It is no wonder, then, that they are protesting and that opposition parties have found a niche in representing their interests. We don’t envy the government’s position here. Many of the IDPs being evicted have illegally occupied the temporary shelters, but they do have a reasonable expectation that they should receive a housing solution that satisfies their needs. And from their perspective, their needs are immediate. In the last two years, the government has provided durable housing to a large number of IDPs, both old and new. While we have been critical of aspects of this process, we must also acknowledge the scale and complexity of the issue. Unfortunately one of the biggest shortcomings of the process has been the government’s failure to publicly acknowledge this complexity or to explain how and why it makes decisions on issues such as eviction, monetary compensation and priorities for housing allocation. Pragmatic considerations of cost and scale may have driven the process, but few understand this, and one unavoidable downside of a cost-effective approach is that the most vulnerable families do not necessarily benefit first. More effective public communication about decisions would go a long way towards allaying the public’s concerns. TI Georgia has monitored housing assistance to IDPs since the 2008 war and has been a member of the MRA Steering Committee - a group of relevant government representatives and donors that coordinates IDP policy - for most of that time. A version of this article appeared in today's issue of Liberali. Annexes to the Standard Operating Procedures for Vacation and Re-allocation of IDPs: Annex 1 Shelter Standards.xls Annex 2 Profiling report format Sep 22_1-ENG.xls Annex 3 ENG Notification.pdf Annex 4 post-relocation monitoring checklist ENG.xls Annex 5 post vacation report format-ENG new.xlsx

Author: Caitlin Ryan and Lasha Gogidze