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Stories of displacement:
The fate of three generations after decades of conflict

Maia Zubashvili, 57, has not felt at home since she was forced to flee her village in South Ossetia during the 2008 war. Today she and her son Soso Zubashvili, 33, live in a 27 square meter room in a renovated former music school in Gori, a mid-sized city in central Georgia.
“You come to hate entering the building. When you look at it, it looks exactly like the home of displaced people, it’s in terrible condition,” Maia told Chai Khana.
Maia was displaced during the 2008 war when her village, Kheiti, which is located north of Tskhinvali, was occupied. She and her son were initially moved to the capital, Tbilisi, and settled in a kindergarten in the Gldani district which had been repurposed to house internally displaced persons (IDP).
One day in early 2009, she received an unexpected call from an unknown government employee who gave her the option to go live in one of two villages—Shavshvebi or Berbuki—or near a factory in Gori. Knowing that the two villages were far from any cities but unaware of the conditions that awaited her in Gori, Maia chose to live in Gori to be closer to jobs.


40 families have lived in the former music school for the last 14 years with little hope of change for better living conditions. They told Chai Khana that the only time hope makes an appearance is during election season, when officials are eager to make an impression to garner votes. As soon as polling stations close however, they seem to be just another problem for someone else to solve. (Credit: Maryam Mumladze)

While thousands of families received newly built cottages in the villages of Shavshvebi and Berbuki, among other nearby settlements, Maia and her son were each given 27 square meters, partitioned by plasterboard walls, to live in. Having rented out one of the rooms to add to their income, Maia now shares the space she was given with her son, daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren.
“Forty families live in a renovated, former music school that was meant to house 20 families. There aren’t even basic conditions here, we have mold everywhere, access to water is limited and leaks are frequent causing constant fights between neighbors,” she added, “We don’t have any hope that anyone will give us a new home.”


Maia’s grandchildren play games in the family's bedroom as their mother watches on. (Credit: Maryam Mumladze)

By 2020 the Georgian government—through budgetary funds and donor programs—had resettled 42,000 families, with another 40,000 continuing to await housing. Many, like Maia, have found, however, that what the government calls a “durable housing solution” is unsustainable.
Their circumstances in part are a reflection of the Georgian government’s failure to put together a comprehensive plan to solve the housing crisis facing its citizens. The initial Law on IDPs was adopted in 1996, three years after the end of the Abkhazian war, which displaced nearly 250,000 Georgians. It only provided initial recognition of their status and temporary solutions such as covering the costs of transportation to where they would be housed, however.
In the absence of any government solutions, many sought shelter with family members, friends, or in repurposed and dilapidated buildings like factories, hotels, clinics, government buildings, and former student housing.
While Georgia did put together a state strategy in 2007 that was meant to address all the aspects of displacement from housing to healthcare, employment, education and legal status, the implementation of specific projects has proven to be more complicated. Indeed a few of the residents at the former music school in Gori express a sense of injustice and frustration at the seemingly haphazard selection process through which some end up being luckier than others.
“A major challenge in the field of IDPs are the more than 300 old collective settlements that are in ruins, depreciated and life-threatening. 20,000 people live in such conditions. They need urgent accommodation. There is poverty in these settlements,” Meri Bitsadze, the Communications Coordinator at the Charity Humanitarian Center “Abkhazeti” (CHCA), told Chai Khana.
The government did introduce a point system in 2013 to try to streamline the process and prioritize which families received housing over others. To assign points, the Ministry looks at factors such as a family's income as well as if family members fit any special categories for pensioners, veterans, handicapped family members, or family members who passed away during the two conflicts. The Ministry also takes into account the living conditions in their current residence. After initial scoring is conducted, families have to go through site visits and interviews before a final decision is made.
Assigning points however, has proved to be a faulty system, according to IDPs.
Monika Dgebuadze, 30, an IDP from Abkhazia who lives in a newly built apartment building with her husband and children in Zugdidi, explains that there have been families who did not receive housing for simple errors that could have been easily remedied while others have chosen to rent or sell their homes for various reasons.
“There are many who don’t want the apartments but also those who are seriously in need but did not receive any housing because of simple mistakes,” she says. “Even for reasons like not being at home for a site visit even though they weren’t warned beforehand of the visit and so they didn’t receive an apartment. At the same time there are those who don’t even live in Georgia and don’t plan to.”
This disconnect between displaced communities and the government is common. When Maia asked if she could receive additional room in consideration of her grandchildren, she says the response was dismissive, “This is the space you and your son were given, so live in it.”

Chai Khana contacted the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs for comment but did not receive a response by the publishing date.
To navigate the system, IDPs have come to rely on NGOs, like the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), which fill the gap left by the government and provide IDPs with legal assistance. The assistance provided by such organizations can prove crucial in deciding whether IDPs receive a house or not and what conditions will await them there.
“We are currently conducting four cases related to the right to housing. Last year GYLA successfully finished two cases regarding this issue. However, we are providing free consultation. For example, last year 141 IDP received legal consultations,” Nona Kurdovanidze, GYLA’s Legal Aid Program Director, told Chai Khana.
A report authored by GYLA alongside other NGOs working on the issue in 2019 found that 74 percent of IDPs named living conditions as the major problem they faced, with many also citing inaccessibility to essential services such as medical facilities and transportation as a serious issue.
Overall, IDP families continue to lag behind in access to opportunity. Many families cited concerns over their inability to prepare their children for higher education exams and cover the costs even if their child is accepted to a university.
Of the IDPs interviewed in the report, all of whom lived in government assigned or built communities, 70 percent relied on state allowances and pensions as their main source of income with only 23 percent depended on their salary. These statistics provide a grim picture of the reality facing many displaced families in Georgia.
As Maia Bitsadze explains there are down sides faced even by the “lucky ones” who are given homes in government built communities.
“The disadvantage of this program is that several apartment buildings are built in one area and handed over to the most needy IDP families, creating concentrated poverty,” Bitsadze says.


Maia’s daughter-in-law, Marina Zubashvili, 32, gets her child ready for school in the family’s living room. (Credit: Maryam Mumladze)

A lack of IDP participation in the processes that decide their futures is a significant part of the issue. A 2020 Internal Displacement Monitoring Center report found that while strategies have been well-intentioned, their implementation has at times proven to be ineffective with IDPs left in the dark about how decisions are made at the top.
“In just two months, they selected the territories, drew up the plans in one week, and built the homes, which is very quick,” Nano Zazanashvili, an architect and the main researcher in a 2011 study on government built IDP communities near Gori, told Chai Khana.
“The entire process was informal. Some respondents told me that everything happened on a one phone call basis: meaning that they would call someone, demand that the project plans be drawn up quickly, and all decisions were made in this manner.”
Shortcomings included settlements that lacked schools or other basic infrastructure.
Nugzar Tinikashvili, Mayor (Gamgebeli) of Akhalgori Municipality and an IDP since 2008, agrees there were significant problems with how the settlements were built. Nugzar and his family received a government-built house in the Tserovani settlement, an expansive community that stretches across the plains that separate de-facto South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia.
“There were serious problems facing the settlement. Everything had been done in a rushed manner and so there were a lot of issues in relation to the speed of construction,” he told Chai Khana.
For instance, until 2014, when Nugzar was elected, there was no hot water or indoor bathrooms. Families had to use wooden outhouses located 20 meters from their houses. Since Nugzar was elected to oversee the 2,700 families living in Tserovani and nearby settlements, they have built bathrooms for all the houses and running hot water.
While the situation has improved today, he noted, the community still faces major challenges.
“The problems we face are similar to those facing the entire country, the only difference is that we are also displaced persons. Employment is the biggest issue we face but within Tserovani itself we have a very good employment rate, with 1,500 people working and another 300 people employed in local places,” Nugzar said.
“It is up to us to share our needs with the government…We select projects according to the needs of the population, since I myself am an IDP and live here, I see what our needs are.”
A 2019 World Bank Report shows that 14.5 percent of IDPs are unemployed, although in rural areas the figure was estimated to be closer to 40 percent. Seventy percent of displaced persons surveyed in the report described themselves as underemployed.
So-called “old IDPs,” including those that came from Abkhazia in the 1990s, have been shown to have at least 10 percent lower monthly wages than their local counterparts according to the Institute of Labor Economics. A 2009 UNHCR report also shows that IDP children are more vulnerable than their local counterparts and at times have to leave school earlier to support the family.
The picture is not uniformly dark for all IDPs, however. Due to the variety of donors financing IDP housing, some families end up living in substantially better housing than others.
The Danish Refugee Council has been implementing housing projects for IDPs in Georgia for decades. However, IDPs that qualify for housing provided by the Danish Refugee Council receive homes that meet international norms and standards.
The DRC has a rigorous selection process to evaluate IDP families for housing. One of the criteria that sets DRC apart from the government is that they require families to actually own the plots of land upon which their future homes will be built.
Unlike with government housing, IDP families have more of a say when working with the DRC.
After projects start, the DRC has a monitoring team of its own engineers who are actively involved in the oversight of construction. Families themselves are also involved in this process, noted Nino Khokhobaia, the Head of Programmes for the DRC.
“The beneficiaries themselves are often the best monitoring mechanism, since it is their home that is being built. Anytime there is even the smallest delay, they always call us to notify us,” she said.
Khvicha Barbakadze and his wife Tamar Kiknadze, who have a young child, are IDPs who are currently waiting to receive a home from the DRC. They currently live in Tbilisi but their home is being built near the city of Khashuri.

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Misha Bejetashvili fled from Abkhazia with his family when he was 10 years old. Misha lived in Russia for 25 years but chose to move back in 2019 to care for his aging father. After starting a family, he enrolled in a DRC program like Khvicha and received a house in his ancestral village of Sasireti. Although they have never met, the house they received is identical in layout and quality. (Credit: Nika Vetsko)

Khvicha and his family fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war, and for years the family was forced to live in a 20-square-meter room in an old sanatorium in Tbilisi. “The conditions there were terrible. We lived there until 2015-2016,” he recalled.
Once he and Tamar got married in 2016, they rented an apartment and left the sanatorium. The government’s housing policy was in full swing by that time, so Khvicha was optimistic they would qualify for an apartment. But according to the government’s point system, they were too wealthy to qualify since they had paid a lump sum to live in the apartment for a set period, a common arrangement in Tbilisi.
“I called the Ministry and they told me that I didn’t fit into any categories; to get a higher score there would have to be a veteran in my family or someone with a socially vulnerable status or have a lot of loans. Happily, I’m actually not as vulnerable as others. And there were people in my neighborhood who were worse off than I was, and they didn’t even get a high score so I knew there was no point,” he said.
Instead, the couple applied for a house under the DRC program based on a piece of family property in Khashuri. Their application was approved in November 2020 and construction started in June 2021 and is nearly finished, Khvicha said. The 54-square-meter house will have a kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms.
“I know a lot of people who received an apartment in Tbilisi from the government and none of them are satisfied,” he said. “Here, as far as I can see, they oversee and control everything, and the quality is very good. I tell everyone I know around me that if they want to live in a village this is the ideal option... As far as I can see there’s less competition here, for some reason everyone wants an apartment.”


Guram Elbakidze, 83, and his wife, Ana, who is South Ossetian, live in the same building as Maia and her family. After fleeing their village during the 2008 war, they ended up here, while their daughter continues to live and work in Tskhinvali.
Guram said the government canceled their social assistance, which amounts to 45 lari ($15) per month per person, because an inspector decided they had nothing to complain about since “They seemed to be quite well off as they had two rooms to live in for both of them.”