A new study published by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), a watchdog, on 7 September, says a growing share of Russian and Belarussian citizens entering Georgia since March were staying in the country. IDFI says the way the statistics are collected makes it difficult to surmise the motives of each entry, while making year-on-year comparisons was complicated to COVID-19 pandemic that skewed 2019-2021 statistics in extraordinary ways. Still, the watchdog argues, that a trend of Russian and Belarussian citizens staying in Georgia can be glimpsed, which “represents a challenge from the point of view of state security and necessitates actions to reduce risks.”
According to the March-June 2022 data that IDFI received from the Border Protection Department of the Ministry of Internal affairs, 277,698 Russian, 74,385 Ukrainian and 54,147 Belarussian citizens have entered Georgia.
In the same period, 49,505 more Russians (18%), 74,385 (20%) more Ukrainians and 15,237 (28%) more Belarussians entered the country than left it. This is a significant increase across the board, with the most stark increase in case of Belarussians.
From the citizens that entered Georgia 25 February-30 June 2022, 42,577 Russian citizens, 15,585 Ukrainians and 10,554 Belarussians were still in the country as of 31 July. They are legally authorized to stay for up to a year.
The watchdog received data from 2019 and 2022. In the intervening years, the data collection at the border points was interrupted due to the restrictive measures taken linked to COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic also saw the entries drop sharply in 2020-2021. In addition, in March-June 2019 direct flights operated between Russia and Georgia, which were suspended in June 2019 by Russia due to so called “Gavrilov’s Night” protests in Tbilisi.
When taken together, these caveats make statistical comparison between 2019 and 2022 difficult.
Why are they coming?
In the second quarter of 2022 the percentage of visitors who stated leisure, entertainment, and recreation, as the reasons of arrival decreased from 58% to 45%, while the share of those who said they came to visit friends and relatives increased from 15% to 20%.
Citing a Geostat survey, IDFI also says the average number of nights spent during visits by Russian citizens has nearly doubled, compared to 2019.
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