Kremlin-backed Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania visited yesterday the overwhelmingly ethnic-Georgian majority district of Gali, where he visited the central hospital, as well as met with locals together with the district leadership to discuss employment, education, residence permits and citizenship.
Sokhumi-based Apsnypress news agency reported that at the meeting with Gali residents Bzhania was approached with an issue of local school graduates being unable to continue studies in Abkhazia and Russia, and enrolling instead to universities in Georgia proper, due to the absence of Abkhaz passports.
“School graduates in the Gali district, who wish to enter universities in Russia and Abkhazia, should not be hindered. These restrictive norms, that are applied to older generations in Gali district, should not apply to the younger generation,” said Bzhania, who backs the passportization of ethnic Georgians.
Bzhania reportedly instructed his administration to find a solution for the problem, and to interview the high school graduates about where they wish to continue their studies. “Consider that this issue will be resolved on an individual basis,” Apsnypress cited Bzhania as telling locals.
According to the same report, Gali locals also raised the issue of delays in the issuance of the residence permits, which Sokhumi offers to the ethnic Georgians in Gali, who were stripped of Abkhaz “citizenship” back in 2014 and 2017. The Abkhaz leader reportedly tasked the local authorities to examine the delays and fix the problem.
At the meeting, Bzhania was also approached with the issue of Gali Georgians “returning” to Abkhaz ethnicity. He was told that since 2015, “presidential administration” approved only 120 applications over reclaiming Abkhaz nationality out of 600 hopefuls. Bzhania tasked his administration to make inquiry into the reasons of refusal for the remaining 480 Abkhaz-hopefuls.
On his part, Bzhania during the meeting Bzhania highlighted the need to fully realize the economic potential of the district, pointing out that about 11,000 people of Gali’s potential labor force of approximately 15,000are not permanently employed, and that out out of 60,000 hectares cultivated during the Soviet times, only 10 thousand are currently cultivated.
Also, while his visit to the local hospital, Bzhania was told by chief physician that the hospital lacks COVID department and the clinic has not seen major overhaul since its construction decades ago. Bzhania was also informed that Magnetic Resonance Tomography (MRT) device, although present in the hospital since 2017, has never become operational.
Some 30,000 ethnic Georgian population of Gali district are stripped of Abkhaz citizenship, and deprived of their political rights, including in participating in the non-recognized elections of the region.
Abkhaz leadership, under Bzhania, have floated the idea of issuing Abkhaz passports to the Gali Georgians, but have met with fierce opposition. The last year, influential group of war veterans – Aruaa – threatened the current Abkhaz administration with protests if they would issue the passports. They then reminded current PM Alexander Ankvab, that issuance of Abkhaz passports to Georgians led to his ousting from the presidential office back in 2014.
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