Georgia: Red Cross delivers warm clothes to displaced people

Published: 29 January 2009 0:00 CET

Manana Kubaneishvili, IFRC information and reporting officer, Rustavi, Georgia

Thousands of people internally displaced by the 2008 conflict in Georgia – most of whom left all their belongings behind when they fled their homes - are receiving warm winter clothing from the Georgian Red Cross.

The winterization programme is being run by the Georgian Red Cross with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It is delivering winter clothes, footwear and blankets to displaced families living in collective centres in Georgia. At the heart of the Georgian winter, 1,250 families will receive new warm coats, boots, socks, sweaters and blankets, essential to protect them from the cold, in particular the children.

Ketevan Narozashvili, 36, was born in the village of Sadzeguri, in the region of Akhalgori (South Ossetia). She worked as a teacher at the local school, and her husband was a veterinarian. They had their own cattle farm, which was an important source of income for their family of five.

Forced to flee

In August 2008, when hostilities broke out between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia, Ketevan, her husband and their three children were forced to flee their native village, leaving behind their house, their cattle and all their possessions.

“Everyone was in a panic and wanted to escape the fighting,” Ketavan recalls. “There were no cars or trucks for us to take our possessions. Everything had to be left behind… Still I think I am lucky that my whole family is together and alive.”

As Ketevan thinks about her home village, tears well up in her eyes. “It is all lost now. We have no information about our house or the livestock. None of our relatives or friends remained in the village,” she says.

Displaced by conflict

The Narozashvili family is among around 70,000 people displaced by the conflict in Georgia. According to Georgian Red Cross and United Nations independent estimates, 52,000 to 56,000 of these people are in Georgia, 10,000 to 15,000 are displaced in South Ossetia and some 2,000 people are currently living in North Ossetia, Russia.

These newly-displaced people have swollen the ranks of Georgia’s 222,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from previous conflicts. According to the UN, 60 per cent of IDPs in Georgia do not have any income and are dependent on the state and on international aid to meet their basic needs. IDP families include a high proportion of elderly, children, people with disabilities and female-headed families.

Six months after the conflict, the Narozashvili family is accommodated in a small room in a collective centre in Rustavi, 40 kilometres southeast of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, which houses 250 other inhabitants. Recently, Ketevan managed to find a temporary job in a local primary school, but her husband remains unemployed and they are struggling to feed themselves and their children of 11, 12 and 16.

Dependent on support

“This situation makes us very dependent on support from the local government and various organizations,” Ketevan says.

Although she appreciates the generosity of people around them, she dreams of once more earning a living as they used to – to restore her self-esteem and re-establish a life for her family and a future for her children.

In Georgia, the Red Cross programmes were set up within the framework of the operational agreement signed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the IFRC and the Georgian Red Cross. They include disaster management, psychosocial support and first aid. In addition, with a budget of 600,000 Swiss francs (400,000 euro/520,000 US dollars) the winterization programme aims to provide clothing for 1,250 displaced families.

Warm blankets

So far, the Georgia Red Cross has delivered winter clothing, footwear and warm blankets to 202 families in collective centres in Bolnisi and Gardabani, to 259 families in Rustavi and aims to reach another 939 families in Tbilisi.

“The distribution of winter clothes for people was not an easy task as sizes and personal requirements had to be taken into consideration,” explains Jassen Slivensky, IFRC programme coordinator. “The Georgian Red Cross volunteers did a wonderful job, visiting each family, where they noted the right sizes for the clothing and inquired about people’s urgent needs.

“The volunteers were well-prepared for the distribution. They managed the registration of beneficiaries, cross-checked the identifications and data with the supplies, helped to sort and pack the goods, and stocked remaining packages at the end of the day,” he adds.

Later the volunteers delivered the parcels to all those who could not come to the Georgia Red Cross distribution points due to their state of health, disability or old age.

Traumatic days

Ketevan recalls: “If I look back at the terrible, traumatic days of August 2008, all I remember is that we had no clothes, no food, no money, no future, and not even an idea of what to do.

“We didn’t realize then who were the people who were by our side at all times, caring for us, providing heaters, food, hygiene articles and bed linen. Later we realized that it was the Georgia Red Cross and most of those young people were volunteers. They were asking questions about our needs, they played with our children and distributed aid. They made us feel that we were not alone and not forgotten. I am happy to see them here again,” she smiles.

“The Red Cross volunteers have been at the vanguard of our humanitarian action from the start of the conflict,” says Nana Keinishvili, president of the Georgian Red Cross. “In all our operations they provided valuable logistics work and registration, as well as psychosocial support to people who have lived through this crisis. We support and encourage their work.”