My 2008/09 project in Georgia is a series of portraits of Georgian refugees in their homes who have fled their homes in Abkhazia during the war of 1992 – 93. The Georgian – Abkhaz conflict, during which 15,000 people lost their lives, was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the post-communist era and still remains unresolved.
At the time the international community largely overlooked the conflict and the fate of 250,000 internally displaced people (IPDs) who were forced to leave Abkhazia due to the violence.
Ever since the IDPs had to leave their homes they had to live in “temporary” accommodation. Since the conflict remained unresolved, they never found any resolve either. They were stuck in hotel rooms or former halls of residence where they raised their families and grew older.
Dependent on handouts and benefits the refugees find themselves on the margins of society. The stigma of being a drain on society is far reaching and many struggle to find steady employment. While the young generation having witnessed their parent’s disillusionment and find it difficult to have a positive outlook, it is the elderly who have struggled to adjust the most. Poverty is widespread and severe among the IDPs of the ‘92 war. Many have been unemployed ever since they were forced to leave their homes in Abkhazia and now their state pension is too small to live on.
The temporary accommodation they and their families live in since ’92 is in dire disrepair – it’s cold and drafty, the plumbing and electrics fail and are fixed provisorily by the residents themselves. Every room houses a family and serves as serves them as a living room and communal bedroom. Washbasins were turned into kitchen sinks. And small stoves and hotplates, located just outside the tiny rooms in dark and long corridors, are surrogate kitchens. In some cases children are sleeping under beds or tables to make room for everybody. That’s how small the rooms really are.
In 2008 – with the renewed outbreak of violence in South Ossetia, which also spread into Abkhazia – a new wave of Georgian IDPs arrived in Tbilisi bringing the issue of Georgian IDPs to the fore once again. This time however the violence did catch the attention of the international community, and finally after 16 years in “temporary” accommodation enduring crowded and grim conditions, in early 2009 they were told the government would relocate them to permanent housing outside Tbilisi. A resolve at last.