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More Refugees, Displaced People Return to Georgia


The U.N. refugee agency says an increasing number of people are returning to their homes as the situation improves in Georgia. The UNHCR says many people who fled their homes in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia also are returning as conditions stabilize. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency says an increasing number of people have been returning to Gori since Russian troops withdrew from the Georgian town.

Gori was largely abandoned during the conflict between Russia and Georgia earlier this month. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says the agency will help local authorities assess the numbers of returnees and coordinate assistance programs. This includes providing shelter and non-food items.

"Most of the returns since Friday have been spontaneous. Many of the displaced returned from areas in and around Tblisi," said Redmond. "According to the Georgian government, between 10 and 15,000 have already gone back to Gori, out of an initial population estimated at somewhere around 70,000. Most of the returnees had been in contact with neighbors and relatives and were aware of the state of their homes and what they were going back to. Many of the returnees were men who said they first want to see the situation for themselves before bringing their families back."

Redmond says field teams have monitored departure points and shelters in Tblisi to make sure the returns are voluntary. He says many returnees carried UNHCR relief packages, including blankets, mattresses and kitchen sets as well as food supplies for five to 10 days.

The agency says it opened an office Sunday in Gori and has established a provisional warehouse there to provide for the needs of those returning home.

Nearly 160,000 people were displaced during the recent conflict, about 30,000 fled from South Ossetia to the Russian Federation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been granted access to South Ossetia. U.N. aid agencies have not because there is no agreement allowing aid to go to the region from Georgia.

But Redmond says he saw a lot of aid flowing into South Ossetia from Russia while he and High Commissioner Antonio Guterres visited the area Thursday and Friday.

"In fact, in one half-hour period, as we were driving out of South Ossetia, we counted some 100 trucks, commercial trucks coming South carrying what we assume was relief assistance. So, there is an enormous amount of material coming from the Russian Federation into South Ossetia. But, as far as I know, nothing coming from Georgia proper into South Ossetia," he said.

According to Russian authorities, about 23,000 people from South Ossetia have returned from the Russian Federation since August 12. Redmond says several displaced people in both South and North Ossetia told High Commissioner Guterres they intend to return to their homes as soon as possible.

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