IFRC

Georgia: psychosocial support essential for internally displaced

Published: 10 October 2008 0:00 CET

Asta Ytre, International Federation Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, Georgia

One month after the cease fire agreement, an estimated 30,000 people are still internally displaced in Georgia - 20,000 of them in the capital, Tbilisi. While this is a huge drop from the original number of more than 100,000, the needs are still great, emotional as well as physical. In response, the Red Cross is building up psychosocial support activities.

“We have lived in constant conflict for many years,” an elderly Georgian man explains, “but this time it was impossible to stay.” Sitting on miniature chairs in a large room of the kindergarten-made-shelter on the outskirts of Tbilisi, he and the other residents, all of them displaced by the recent conflict, tell their stories of loss, fear and grief. They seem pleased that someone is listening. The conversation is also something that breaks the monotony of their day.

The 109 people in this location are not alone in their situation. One month after the cease fire agreement, an estimated 30,000 people are still internally displaced in Georgia - 20,000 of them in the capital, Tbilisi. While this is a huge drop from the original number of more than 100,000, the needs are still great, emotional as well as physical. In addition to facing current challenges, many Georgians, whether or not they are displaced, still remember vividly the conflict of the 90s. Some people who were displaced then have never been able to return to their homes, and others are now displaced for the second time.

Two kinds of support

With support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation, as well as other Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Georgian Red Cross is currently providing humanitarian assistance to displaced people. It is distributed through more than 1,000 volunteers, many of whom are newly-recruited. The Georgian Red Cross is also building up its capacity to provide psychosocial support to vulnerable people. Both staff and volunteers clearly see the need for such activities.

“When we distribute humanitarian aid, we also hear their stories,” one young volunteer in the Rustavi branch explains. “When I listen to these stories, it seems to me that these people need psychological support even more than humanitarian aid.”

The displaced are housed in a variety of locations, some of which do not have electricity or running water. They include kindergartens, schools and other public buildings. Some are also living with host families. While the smaller buildings house fewer than 50 people, the largest one in Tbilisi houses 1,800. In Gori, some 2,000 people are living in one tent camp.

Nothing to do but think

“We had everything we needed at home,” says one of the women living in the kindergarten. “Here, we have nothing.” The contrast is large from living in a farming community and being close to self-sufficiency in terms of food, to sleeping on borrowed mattresses and eating food provided by the government and various national and international organisations. Furthermore, the activity level is low in the shelters. If they were at home at this time of year, they would be harvesting fruits and vegetables and preparing to store them for winter.

In the shelters, there is next to nothing to do. Besides a few daily chores such as cleaning and cooking, all they can do is sit, and think. “There is nothing to do,” says one young woman while gently rocking a small child. “We only sit around, and when I close my eyes, I remember all the sad things that have happened.”

Volunteering to cope better

This inactivity is something that the Georgian Red Cross hopes to reduce as it starts up its new psychosocial programme. Simple things like creative activities and social gatherings, sports, games and small outings can make the days easier to get through and life a little better in general. The Georgian Red Cross also plans to improve its support to staff and volunteers, many of whom are either directly or indirectly affected by the situation.

Some of the displaced have volunteered their services to the Red Cross. They say they feel that it is better to volunteer than to do nothing, and that doing something for others is helping them cope. However, as one volunteer put it, “it is difficult to see others in such a bad state. We try to hide our own feelings and only listen, but it is not easy.”

The International Federation released just over 230,000 Swiss francs (EUR 143,000/USD 220,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support Georgian Red Cross assistance for the displaced, in complement to the efforts of the ICRC, and for longer-term capacity building.




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