Eco-migrants Face Eviction
27 September, 2012

Families of ecological migrants largely known as eco-migrants resettled from Ajara highlands to lowlands in the south-east of Georgia were evicted from temporary homes owned by the repatriated Greeks and many more expect to share this fate as the legal owners chased by the crisis in Greece come back to sell their property. The eviction falls on the conscience of the state that had to redeem the houses from legal owners for eco-migrants at least 8 years ago but did

not do it up to this day. 

“Over the past thirty years, tens of thousands of people have been left homeless as a result of flooding, landslides, and avalanches. However, the needs of so-called ecological migrants, or eco-migrants, i.e., people who have been displaced from their homes due to natural disasters, are a brutally neglected issue in Georgia,” Justin Lyle wrote in  Working Paper number 53 of European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) in January of this year.

The reason is the legal gap and absence of coherent state policy/strategy, Ilia Guchmanidze, Head of non-governmental organization Borjgali [a Georgian symbol of eternity that does not subdue to translation] involved with the eco-migrant issue, assures. Although the problem of eco-migrants traces back to early 80s of the past century and is only aggravating due to Georgia’s mountainous landscape and climate change Georgian state still has not worked out any legal basis to solve problems of eco-migrants decently.

The central authorities are responsible to take care of eco-migrants and insure them with living space, arable lands and decent living conditions, but it cannot solve the residential problem as of yet let alone school, sanitary, medical and social care that remain in the realm of dreams for majority of eco-migrant families.

During last 10 years Georgia lost USD 500 million and number people who died because of natural disaster reached 400. According to National Environment Agency, natural disasters that occurred in Georgia have dramatically increased and are experiencing more activation due to climate change. The risky areas mainly cover Ajara and Svaneti highlands. More than 9 thousand families or 40 thousand people have already left their residential places in Ajara and about 11 thousand families or roughly 55 thousand are bound to leave in near future.

Most part of the already resettled people were sent to south-east lowlands of Georgia in Akhalkalaki frontier region that offers very good land and climate for farming and livestock breeding but was vacated after break of Soviet regime. This area was mainly populated by people of different nationality as Greeks, Armenians, Russians lived along Georgians. As the Soviet regime fell Russians and Greeks left for their homelands. The eco-migrants occupied the empty houses under the state pledge that authority would buy houses from their legal owners ultimately. The state did really buy some houses but majority of them are still pending for redemption payment and living on the mercy of legal owners who just took compassion for people in distress and allowed to live for certain rent and even free of charge.

However, as situation in Greece grew into financial crisis the legal owners of eco-migrants’ houses return and claim their property back thus depriving eco-migrants of the shelter and the living bread equally for the lands and pastures of legal owners used to be the only source of income for eco-migrants. Within this summer some families were already evicted and more live in a fear as Greek proprietors permanently call and demand to pay or leave.

“Greeks do not come to stay in fact, they just want to sell their property out and go back to Greece but they require quite big sums starting from around EUR 5 thousand and going as high as EUR 15 thousand. The eco-migrants that actually are in the group of socially vulnerable by official statistics cannot afford this sum apparently, it is up to the state to pay but it cannot solve this problem for at least 8 years,” Guchmanidze said in the interview to Georgian Journal.

The problem derives from the legislative gap. The key issue is there is no definition of eco-migrant status based on which one might outline a group of people who bears this status and protect their interests. Georgian state acknowledges only the narrowed status of Internally Displaced People who fled armed conflicts but neglects definition of ecological migrants and considers them as people affected by natural disasters that is misleading.

“People affected by natural disaster may live in their houses after some repair and compensations while eco-migrants are people who cannot stay at their residential houses for it is risky for life. The entire developed international community except Georgia has a clear definition for the eco-migrants’ status,” Guchmanidze elaborated.

As the legal bass is absent there is a confusion who exactly is responsible for different problems of eco-migrants number of which reaches roughly 100 thousand in Georgia at the moment and is expected to increase permanently due to more frequent natural disasters caused by climate change.

“The local authorities of Ajara take much more care for eco-migrants envisaging about GEL 9 million than central authority that did not envisage any financing for eco-migrants during the last three years, and Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees that is directly responsible for eco-migrants has no precise statistics of them and hardly goes on contact with us,” Guchmanidze said.

Recently the state has worked out a migration strategy that overlooked the eco-migrants definition again. A network of non-governmental watchdogs plans to send a letter to all state structures responsible for the issue to amend the paper.

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