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Archive for the ‘emergencies’ Category

Georgia Crisis: A trip to Gori

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 28 August, 2008

IRC surveys homes destroyed by recent bombings in Gori, Georgia.
The IRC surveys homes destroyed by recent bombings in Ruisi, one of the villages surrounding the town of Gori, in Georgia. Photo: Eric James/The IRC
Eric James The IRC

Eric James The IRC

Eric James blogs from Tbilisi, Georgia, where he is coordinating International Rescue Committee programs for people uprooted by crisis in the region.

“We won’t go back until it’s safe,” is the refrain I hear every day from people who fled for their lives nearly three weeks ago amid intense fighting between Georgian, Russian and assorted other forces.  Roughly 160,000 people are newly uprooted in addition to a sizeable group of 250,000 displaced from conflicts dating back to the 1990s.  Those who fled the most recent crisis left with little more than the clothes on their backs.   In some communities, 95% of the population hit the road. The city of Gori, which had 50,000 residents, is one such place.  An hour west of the capital Tbilisi, we went there to see conditions this week and look at the possibility of helping people return and recover.

The main motor-route through Georgia, which connects the capital with the western part of the country, was busy with traffic on this day.  There were large commercial trucks, mostly from Turkey, along with a number of security and aid vehicles. We also saw some displaced people returning to towns and villages that no doubt escaped major damage.   On the horizon, a large black cloud rose from a train that had reportedly hit a landmine left by Russian forces. 

Immediately upon entering Gori you can see bombed out apartment blocks.  They are scorched black all over and turned inside out.  Streams of paper and other personal belongings litter the front grounds.   In the center of town, most buildings are intact, unlike the town centers just to the north in South Ossetia where there was heavy fighting.  Instead, it seems that a few bombs were dropped here to scare people and make a point.  Then, troops entered with their tracked vehicles, shooting buildings at random and ordering residents to leave.  Apparently the threat from landmines in Gori has been assessed as “low” because troops did not have much time to place them. Yet we were told that a woman who was out picking grapes and two children had been killed by landmines only the day before. 

Jason Snuggs/The IRC

Eric James (right) takes notes on what’s needed to help communities like this one in Gori rebuild. Photo: Jason Snuggs/The IRC

Gori and villages surrounding it are ever so slowly coming back to life.  In the center of town we visited the City Hall. There, a hundred or more people, ready to go home, were waiting on the steps for buses to nearby villages.  We talked to a few families who told us they are eager to restart their lives, but remain very worried about the future.  “Look, the Russians are still only 7 kilometers away,” said one man with alarm.

Our team traveled further west to Ruisi, a village of 6,000 people.  Already a dry place at this time of year, fields were burning and smoke was rising as we drove past scorched trees and underbrush.  In Ruisi, we met with the mayor and talked about the crisis over homemade cherry juice.  He told us that the fighting disrupted the farmers’ harvest.  He also said the farmers are afraid to go to their land, which is so close to the Russian troops.   On August 12th, the Russian military dropped several bombs in the area and then occupied Ruisi.  The mayor took us to see one of the houses that was destroyed. It was a direct hit which made it look like Hollywood had done it up as a set.  Part of the house was burnt and ripped open. The rest had been vaporized.  Houses across the street were also badly damaged.  We looked into one living room which had debris and dust everywhere.  All glass was shattered and the ceiling sagged with its panels ripped apart.  We met an elderly man and woman there. The man told us he was inside the house when the explosion happened.  I imaged that his ears must still be ringing.  The woman dressed in black, I suppose his wife, could only shake her head and motion to the ground and sky.  “Why did they do this?” she finally asked.


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Relief for refugees from South Ossetia

Posted by Peter Biro on 15 August, 2008

distributions at the Mikhailovskoye school in Vladikavkaz
                                                                                                  Photo: Thomas Hill/The IRC
Last week, the IRC’s team in the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz distributed hygiene articles, bedding, cleaning supplies and kitchen utensils at two schools sheltering 120 children, mothers and teachers who were evacuated from South Ossetia as tensions mounted between Russia and Georgia. The IRC’s Caucasus director Thomas Hill took this photo of distributions at the Mikhailovskoye school in Vladikavkaz.

How You Can Help: Donate now to help the IRC assist victims of the crisis in the Georgia region and other displaced people around the world.

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Children fleeing war / Georgia

Posted by The IRC on 14 August, 2008

Thomas Hill/The IRC

Many of the refugees in North Ossetia are children who need qualified psychological assistance. Photo: Thomas Hill/The IRC

In the aftermath of fighting between Russia and Georgia in Georgia’s embattled breakaway region of South Ossetia, thousands of people have fled to neighboring Russia’s North Ossetia region, where they require immediate assistance.

“Many of the refugees are children who have witnessed bombing and fighting and therefore need qualified psychological assistance,” says the International Rescue Committee’s Caucasus director, Thomas Hill.

The IRC has joined forces with a Russian aid group to help. Story just posted on the IRC Web site here.

How You Can Help:  Donate now to help the IRC assist victims of the crisis in the Georgia region and other displaced people around the world.

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Iraq Humanitarian Pledge: 10,000+ Signatures

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 24 July, 2008

Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC

Thank you to every single person who has signed our Iraq Humanitarian Pledge.

As you may know, for each person who signs the pledge, $1 in additional funds will be donated to support our work in Jordan and Syria where nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees are living in fear and isolation. So far we have collected more than 10,000 signatures and raised more than $10,000 in additional emergency funds. To help us reach our goal of 60,000 signatures, please spread the word to your friends today.

To learn more about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, you can read our recent Q & A about conditions on the ground, “Iraqis Living in Squalor – Q & A with IRC Program Director Aidan Goldsmith.”

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Iraqi Refugees: No Place to Call Home

Posted by jessmalter on 14 July, 2008

Iraqi refugees cautiously sell shoe polish and other small items on the streets to earn some money.
Photo: Jiro Ose/The IRC
Jessica Malter is blogging from Amman, Jordan. She arrived there in June to support the International Rescue Committee’s regional programs to aid uprooted Iraqis.

Even though more than four million Iraqis have been displaced within and outside of Iraq since the 2003 invasion, the humanitarian tragedy of the war story remains largely untold and misunderstood. That’s part of my assignment here for the IRC – to help tell this story.

Before I left, many of my generally well informed friends asked if I was going to visit refugee camps in Jordan. The fact is, there are no refugee camps here. Iraqis fled terrible violence, family by family, and now live scattered throughout the poorest neighborhoods of Amman and other Jordanian cities, tucked away in back alley apartments that often take two or three phone calls to find.

I spent a recent morning doing home visits with Hiba, a young Jordanian caseworker. She works for a joint CARE-IRC program that aims to provide social services, counseling and cash assistance for Iraqi refugees.

It was a draining morning hearing story after story of despair. All the Iraqis I spoke to that morning expressed a similar sentiment: while they feel safe from violence in Jordan they do not feel free. Their lives today are nothing they would have ever imagined for themselves. Most of them are in dire financial straits. Not allowed to work and out of savings, they are living on whatever they can earn doing odd jobs, help from family members and what assistance is available to them. What I found most shocking were the horrendous living conditions. Few of the places I saw were fit to be called “home”, though glimmers of lives past were discernable if you looked closely enough.

In the center of Amman, through an alley and up a treacherous flight of decaying stone steps, we found Fala. Fala is married with two young children, ages five and two. His family fled Iraq two years ago when they returned home one day to find a note on their door from a local militia, saying, “Leave now!” He didn’t want to take a chance. Now they live in a hovel with no running water or electricity. They eat only what they can prepare on a single gas burner. The family sleeps together in an area of one room that Fala told me was safe enough, though it didn’t look that way to me. The ceiling was caving in and it seemed any moment chunks of concrete might descend. The room was crammed with their few possessions: broken toys; clothes; some tools and a variety of old electronics such as a tape player, VCR and clock radio. Fala studied engineering back in Iraq and I imagine trying to repair these devices was a way for him to pass the time and maybe earn a few dinars. His children are too young for school and the thought of them spending their days in such an unhealthy and confining environment is disturbing. Fala is especially worried about his five-year-old; he says he barely speaks anymore.

Next I met Hassan. He pays the equivalent of $20 US dollars a month to live in a shack constructed on the top of a building. Hassan fled Iraq after being repeatedly threatened because he had worked for the Baathist Party. His brother had already been killed. Now in Jordan, he has no viable source of income and is fast running out of his small savings. He had been working illegally in Jordan but was caught and given a stern warning by the police, who confiscated his passport. He said his two years in Jordan have been like being in prison. Even so, he will not consider going back to Iraq, believing a violent fate awaits him in there.

Then there was Ahmad, who lived in a dark and dingy room with no furniture and few possessions. He fled after receiving death threats. He earns what he can ironing and fetching coffee for people in the neighborhood. With no steady income, he has given up eating meat and is now limited to fruits, vegetables and bread. The few clothes he has hang from hooks on the wall. Among them is a perfectly pressed suit hanging in plastic–a constant reminder of his past life in Iraq where he held an office job.
Living in the room next door to Ahmad was Mohammed. Clutching a book, with reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, I was particularly struck by how out of place he looked in his surroundings. And that’s the thing– none of the Iraqis I met that morning belong where they are. They all deserve better. Mohammed had been a teacher in Iraq, before going to work for the U.S military. He fled Iraq after receiving death threats as a result of his association with the Americans. He had applied for asylum in the United States and when he learned that I was from there he said to me in English, “Can you help me?” “Inshalla” I replied, a common expression in Arabic meaning “God Willing”.

The Iraqi refugees I met that morning, like most that have had to flee their homes, live in a grey zone, having little idea of what their futures hold and no particularly good options.

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