We tend to think that the displaced will be able to go home soon, but in reality, they remain displaced for years. A total of 246,974 men, women and children from the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are still unable to return, now living in the capital city of Tbilisi and in smaller urban and rural areas close to their regions of origin.
After more than 25 years since the first wave of displacement, Georgia’s internally displaced are a diverse group. Some live in independent private housing, are employed and have managed to provide good education to their children. Others continue to live in collective centers, are spatially and socially isolated from the rest of the population, and have been chronically poor and unemployed since they became displaced.
While meeting the immediate needs of the displaced is important at the outset, such changes over time suggest that we need to think differently about how better to support them in the long term.
One example is the monthly benefit of 45 Lari (approximately 20 USD) provided to all internally displaced citizens by the Georgian government, regardless of their levels of poverty or employment. Some of the country’s poor, who have not been displaced, have begun to question this benefit.
After all, why should someone who is not poor, receive such support?
In 2014, the Government of Georgia asked the World Bank to study this question. Should the benefit for the internally displaced be adjusted, and what are the implications, including social and poverty impacts? Here are some of the main observations from the report, Transitioning from Status to Needs Based Assistance for IDPs: A Poverty and Social Impact Analysis, which our team prepared:
- Georgia’s displaced and non-displaced are equally likely to be poor. However, the displaced tend to rely on social transfers, remittances, and informal jobs, and are more likely to be unemployed for long periods of time. Those in rural area have significantly less information, opportunities for employment, or access to good quality education and services.
- Those who still live in non-renovated, public collective centers experience inadequate living conditions. These households are often socially isolated, separated from friends and family and unable to form ties in uncertain housing conditions. Regardless of income, these households remain extremely vulnerable.
- The displacement "status," – i.e., formal recognition of having been displaced from a conflict area – has a strong symbolic and political value among the entire Georgian population. To the displaced it signifies hope of returning to their homeland. To others it signals the state’s commitment to reintegrating the two occupied territories. For many – rich or poor – holding this status is a matter of dignity.
But given fiscal constraints in Georgia, providing benefits to those that do not necessarily need them is problematic in the long term. In this regard, the report supports the eventual phasing out of the benefit, already initiated by the Georgian government, while taking steps to help those in need, with the following recommendations:
- Livelihoods support is essential especially for households at risk of falling into poverty, with activities that are tailored to the diverse needs of this population, their skills and location. Access to land for those in rural areas with agricultural skills, and access to finance and training for those who are entrepreneurial, are two activities that could work well with these groups.
- Addressing housing conditions and supporting access to private housing is important. Currently, 80 percent of government assistance for the internally displaced goes for housing. These resources could gradually be reallocated towards livelihood assistance for the poorest.
- The poorest households, eligible for social assistance, should be encouraged to apply to the Targeted Social Assistance program – the regular social assistance program for vulnerable Georgians.
It is perhaps most important to ensure that the population, both displaced and not, understands why these reforms are necessary. The time has come for an adjusted approach, so that scarce resources can be used more effectively to benefit those in need, especially the poor and vulnerable.