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No Way Back Home: Displaced Georgians Fear for the Future

Laura Sheehen, a regional information officer with CRS, is on the ground in Georgia and reports on the plight of those displaced by the fighting. She can be reached at lsheahen@eme.crs.org or 011.20.16.533.1643.

“I bought my house last October, borrowing money from friends to do it,” says Georgy, a man from the bombed Georgian village of Gori. “It could be destroyed when I go back, or everything in it could be gone.”

Sitting in a church rectory in the capital city of Tbilisi, Georgy has tears in his eyes as he talks about getting his wife and two children out of his town during last week’s bombing. His plight reflects that of many people who escaped Gori; several had already been pushed out of parts of Ossetia, farther to the north, and had started life over.

Now, twice-displaced people are wondering if they can ever go back to Gori—and what will be left of their homes and possessions after a week of turmoil.

Father Vladimir Aksentyev, a parish priest from Gori, was 40 miles east of the city when the violence began. He drove back to Gori on Sunday to assess the damage and celebrate Mass. “The windows and doors of the chapel were blown out by the shockwave,” he says. Father Vladimir brought a grieving woman and her family back to Tbilisi.

Georgy and his family stayed one night at a Catholic retreat house, and are now with his wife’s relatives near Tbilisi. He is more fortunate that the thousands of suddenly homeless people from bombed areas who now are in makeshift shelters in the capital, often sleeping on the floor in crumbling old buildings.

Catholic Relief Services is supporting local parishes and Caritas Georgia as they respond to the immediate needs of the people. Because it already had a soup kitchen and large bakery, Caritas Georgia was able to swing into action early in the crisis and now is feeding 300 people three meals a day at one shelter alone. Caritas is also bringing bread, tomatoes, large pots of stew, and more to other shelters in the city. In several shelters, residents desperate for clothes picked through donated clothing dropped off by Caritas.

Caritas has a clinic and brought medical supplies like bandages and antibiotics to a Tbilisi hospital. The numbers of people killed or wounded by the violence are unclear, but the number of displaced people is estimated to be 100,000. The question now is how many will be able to go back.

At one shelter, a man from a village near the disputed city of Tskhinvali mourns his home and farm. “I lived in that house my whole life—50 years. I had nine cows, an apple orchard…it was so good,” he says. With continuing tensions between Russia and Georgia, he fears he will never return. “What can I do now?”

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