Refugee Resettlement Watch

The newest refugees: Georgians

Posted by Judy K. Warner on August 20, 2008

We usually write about refugees long after they’ve become refugees. Michael Totten has an account in City Journal of the making of refugees, as Russia invaded Georgia and forced people from their homes. Actually, they’re “internally displaced persons,” refugees in their own country. It begins:

Russia’s invasion of Georgia has unleashed a refugee crisis all over the country and especially in its capital. Every school here in Tbilisi is jammed with civilians who fled aerial bombardment and shootings by the Russian military—or massacres, looting, and arson by irregular Cossack paramilitary units swarming across the border.

…On Monday, I visited one of the schools transformed into refugee housing in the center of Tbilisi and spoke to four women—Lia, Nana, Diana, and Maya—who had fled with their children from a cluster of small villages just outside the city of Gori. “We left the cattle,” Lia said. “We left the house. We left everything and came on foot because to stay there was impossible.” Diana’s account: “They are burning the houses. From most of the houses they are taking everything. They are stealing everything, even such things as toothbrushes and toilets. They are taking the toilets. Imagine. They are taking broken refrigerators.” And Nana: “We are so heartbroken. I don’t know what to say or even think. Our whole lives we were working to save something, and one day we lost everything. Now I have to start everything from the very beginning.”

My paternal grandparents fled what is now Belarus to escape the pogroms.  There were probably some “irregular Cossack paramilitary units” then, too. I won’t get into the foreign policy aspects of the Georgia situation, except to note this:

…these simple Georgian country women seem to understand who their friends and enemies are. “I am very thankful to the West,” Maya said as her eyes welled up with tears. “They support us so much. We thought we were alone. I am so thankful for the support we have from the United States and from the West. The support is very important for us.” … “The West saved the capital. They were moving to Tbilisi. There was one night that was very dangerous. The Russian tanks were very close to the capital. I don’t know what happened, but they moved the tanks back.” And my translator, whose husband works for Georgia’s ministry of foreign affairs, made a similar guess that the West helped save the capital. “The night they came close to Tbilisi,” she said, “Bush and McCain made their strongest speeches yet. The Russians seemed to back down. Bush and McCain have been very good for us.”

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