The UN refugee agency says High Commissioner Antonio Guterres will travel to Georgia and the Russian Federation next week to assess the agency's humanitarian operations in both countries and determine the most critical needs. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Guterres will be the first high-level U.N. official to visit the region since fighting erupted between Georgia and Russia a week ago.
U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond says the High Commissioner's visit was set up very quickly, so details of his itinerary are still being worked out. He says Antonio Guterres will go to Georgia first. He is expected to arrive in the capital, Tblisi, very early Tuesday morning.
"The situation, as you know, is still very fluid," said Redmond. "So the arrangements for his mission are still being discussed with Georgian authorities as well as the Russian Federation. From Georgia, he will go to Moscow. After that it is not clear."
Redmond adds the High Commissioner will meet with both Georgian and Russian government officials as well as with representatives of other aid agencies. He says the trip is likely to last four or five days. Throughout that time, he says, Commissioner Guterres will continue to press for the protection of the civilian population, particularly the displaced.
He also will ask for access by humanitarian agencies to Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia and other areas that currently are off-limits.
Latest government estimates put the number of people displaced by the conflict at more than 118,000. Of these, some 30,000 people from South Ossetia have gone to Russia's North Ossetia region. The U.N. refugee agency says some 73,000 people are displaced in Georgia, including most of the population of the town of Gori, which borders South Ossetia.
The UN spokesman says homeless people are living under miserable conditions in public buildings. Although these sites are becoming increasingly overcrowded, he says the UNHCR does not envision establishing tented camps to shelter the overflow.
"We anticipate that if the situation calms down, that a lot of the internally displaced, say from Gori, could go back. We would assume they would go back fairly quickly. What they find when they get back is a different question," Redmond said. "They may need shelter assistance and help in rebuilding some of the damaged buildings there. UNHCR has flown in tents, including winterized tents, which could be used if necessary."
Redmond says a humanitarian airlift of emergency supplies, the third this week, left Copenhagen for Tblisi Friday. He says the plane is carrying more than 38 tons of water containers, blankets, kitchen sets and telecommunications equipment.
In all, he says the UNHCR will have delivered more than 100 tons of relief supplies this week, enough for more than 50,000 people. He says the UNHCR will send two other airlifts to Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation next week. He says this follows the acceptance by Russian authorities of an offer of aid from the High Commissioner.