Internally Displaced Persons

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, the conflicts in the South Caucasus have witnessed different phases and followed multiple patterns including revived ethnic tensions and a severe economic crisis. These resulted in the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict in 1992-1993, which led to the displacement of close to 300,000 persons, in majority Georgians from Abkhazia. The resettlement process for the people who fled Abkhazia and South Ossetia at that time, was in general spontaneous and poorly planned due to several reasons. First of all, during the 90s, Georgia was facing significant economic problems coupled with weak state institutions and internal political tensions. There was a greater emphasis on the return of IDPs rather than integrating them into local communities. A general instruction was made – “not to prevent” IDPs from taking/settling in whatever living spaces they could find. This resulted in a disproportionate distribution of IDPs in various regions, districts, and towns of Georgia. Some 8,000 to 9,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) were given refuge in Imereti region, the Soviet-era Spa town of Tskaltubo, where some of the by-then abandoned hotels known as Sanatoriums were used to house them. Initially, the abandoned Sanatoriums were supposed to be a “temporary” shelter to thousands of those families. But 29 years later and a several generations deep, these makeshift apartments have become permanent homes for them. There were around 5,000 or so beds in 22 sanatoriums built in the city (some sources state 19) to accommodate the newly displaced people. Though basic utilities were provided, the overall condition of the buildings appeared extremely poor, which deteriorated further over the decades. And yet, often neglected and forgotten stories have been unfolding within these architectural remains of a Soviet past, ones that practically have connected the 20th century of the glorious sanatoriums with the 21st century crises surrounding protracted displacement. This is how the history of grandeur and leisure has become mixed up in more recent ‘dark’ events which have changed the use of the buildings and reflected the precarious, interior worlds of the IDPs – another reminder that a conflict has an unprecedent and devastating impact on people’s lives. The following stories are retrospective of human experience in the lives of displaced persons – past and present. These exclusive image collections were captured by Eric Gourlan Photography in the framework of a joint initiative between Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Georgia and “iconodia”. In various parts of the world, DRC assists thousands of refugees and displaced families to protect them from harm, safeguard their rights, and empower them towards a better future. Since 1999, IDPs remain at the epicenter of DRC programming in Georgia as they are still seen as a highly vulnerable category in the country. DRC’s presence is unique in the South Caucasus region with a granted access to both sides of the dividing line – in Abkhazia and in Georgian Government Administered Territories. We provide direct assistance to conflict-affected population and advocate for a dignified life for all. Note: The Georgian Government has relocated most of the IDPs in 2021, however, as sad as it gets, until that, most of them did spend their last days here.

Tskaltubo Municipality, « Samgurali » Sanatorium. Imereti region, Georgia. May 2021