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UNHCR to Airlift Emergency Supplies to Georgia

The U.N. refugee agency says it is mounting an emergency airlift of relief supplies to Georgia. About 90,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting between Georgian and Russian forces. The first flight will leave Monday night from Dubai and will be followed by a second airlift on Wednesday from Copenhagen. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

UNHCR Spokesman Andrej Mahecic tells VOA the agency has released $2 million from its emergency fund to fly essential non-food items to the stricken area.

He says the conditions under which people are living in both Georgia and Russia are difficult and dire.

"Most of the people seem to be at the moment in the public buildings, such as schools," said Andrej Mahecic. "There are also in Georgia about 1,600 collective centers hosting some 100,000 internally displaced already. There is some room in those. We are also ready to provide temporary shelter if needed as well as the basic non-food items, such as the blankets that will be brought in, jerry cans, kitchen sets and so on."

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is renewing his call for humanitarian access and safe passage for uprooted civilians. He says he welcomes reports that Georgia and Russia will establish two humanitarian corridors out of conflict-ridden South Ossetia - one to Georgia and one to North Ossetia in Russia.

Mahecic says the priority is to get safe passage for civilians,

"The situation is still very volatile and we estimate that many people need help and many are seeking safety elsewhere," he said. "Therefore it is essential that UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are able to reach the affected and the displaced and that those who are, indeed, trapped in the conflict areas are granted passage to safer areas as soon as possible. It is also absolutely essential that both sides respect humanitarian principles and ensure the protection and safety of civilians."

Mahecic says the UNHCR is sending an emergency team to Georgia to help with the relief effort. He says the agency has six offices and more than 50 staff members in Georgia. It also is present in both South and North Ossetia.