On 16-17 August employees of the civil society organization, the Social Justice Center (SJC) visited Khurcha village, Zugdidi Municipality, and Pakhulani village, Tsalenjikha Municipality, located near the occupation line with Abkhazia region.
Their conclusions published on 23 August found that the populations of both villages live in a “difficult social situation.”
Freedom of Movement
Regarding Pakhulani village, the SJC highlighted that while it is located near the Pakhulani-Saberio checkpoint which is one of the two checkpoints connecting Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia, due to the “lack of necessary ‘travel documents’ the locals cannot move to the neighboring villages of Gali and visit their relatives.”
Meanwhile, in Khurcha, the SJC emphasized that the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint connecting the village with Gali District has been closed since March 2017.
“Khurcha Residents recall their close and daily ties with Nabakevi village in the past and say that after the restriction of movement, children from Nabakevi can no longer go to Khurcha kindergarten,” the SJC denoted. “And they themselves have not been able to go to Nabakevi for years to visit their relatives and graves.”
According to the SJC, residents of both villages noted that their legal and social situation has significantly worsened since the 2008 Russo-Georgian August War.
“The deterioration is reflected in particular by the restriction of freedom of movement with the region of Abkhazia and the severing of social and economic ties related to it,” they said. The SJC found that as a result of the worsening situation, the population of both villages has been steadily decreasing due to migration.
Per the Center, the main source of the population’s income in both villages is hazelnut farming, the profits of which decrease year by year in line with the quality of the harvest. “The locals do not have enough resources to take care of the farm properly and get a quality harvest, and the state does not have enough preferential programs to support them,” the SJC underscored.
Fears of Renewed Conflict
The locals described to the SJC that the risks and fears associated with a possible renewal of conflict have a significant impact on their daily lives in the villages, especially since “it is from these places that the conflict started in the past.”
As the SJC denoted for example, in Khurcha, clashes took place over the years in 1993, 1999, and 2008, and with residents “driven from their homes three times by the war” “the memory of this traumatic experience is still alive and strong.”
Residents of both villages have also lost lands as well as cattle due to the nature of the occupation line, causing them “severe social harm,” for which they have received no support from the state.
Along this line, the SJC stressed that the state does not have any special programs to compensate the population in these villages, as they do in some other cases, for the damage they have suffered as a result of the conflict. “Despite the experience of war trauma, special psycho-social rehabilitation programs do not function in these villages,” the SJC added.
Illegal detentions of residents by occupation forces are also common and add further financial burdens on the population of the villages.
Pakhulani residents have also been asking for their decrepit public school to be rehabilitated for years, although the SJC noted that in its current condition this may be impossible. The school is particularly important because children living in Saberio village, Gali District, are also interested in the educational opportunities it can offer.
In Khurcha meanwhile, locals have been lobbying for a wide range of necessities including the construction of drainage roads, internal roads, and public transport. Regular access to healthcare and the building of a public school have also been among their demands.
Residents underscored that “the creation of employment opportunities in the village will become a means of stopping migration, and it is important for the state to proactively think about this.”
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