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UNICEF Says Georgia's Displaced Children Head Back To School

The United Nations Children's Fund says all children displaced by last month's war between Georgia and Russia will be back in school by October 1. UNICEF says they will join thousands of other children who began their school year on September 15. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

There were around 30,000 displaced children when the United Nations Children's Fund began its back to school campaign in Georgia a few weeks ago. Since then, the situation has stabilized and most of the children and their families have returned to the homes they fled during the brief war.

However, Georgian authorities say some 10,000 children are not yet able to return to their homes and remain displaced. UNICEF Communications Officer Robert Cohen says the authorities are making it possible for all of these children to go back to school by October 1.

But he says they will face some temporary inconveniences. "Out of 180 schools in Tbilisi, there are 77 which have not yet opened for classes because IDPs [Internally Displaced People] are still living in them or because repairs are being made," said Cohen.

"The students from these schools are being integrated into other schools, usually through a second shift system. Most of the IDPs who were being sheltered in schools have been moved into kindergartens or other accommodations," he added.

And this, says Cohen, creates other problems. He says all kindergartens in the capital, Tbilisi, are occupied by IDPs. So the authorities, he notes, are faced with the dilemma of needing to open kindergartens while ensuring decent living conditions for homeless people.

"The government is now constructing housing for IDPs in different areas of Georgia and according to the plan, by December first all IDPs should have housing," said Cohen. "As these accommodations become ready, the kindergartens will resume."

Cohen says the situation for children in villages in the so-called buffer zone north of the town of Gori is not as promising. The buffer zone is a strip of land that lies on the border between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russian troops remain stationed in that area.

UNICEF aid workers who were able to visit villages there report schooling has not yet begun because conditions are still unsafe.

Cohen says UNICEF has distributed school supplies and recreation kits for 26,000 children. He says the agency is developing mine-risk education programs to make children aware of the dangers of land mines and other unexploded munitions.

Cohen says surveys among displaced children show many are severely traumatized by the war. He says teachers in Gori and Tbilisi have been given crisis psychology training to detect symptoms of stress among children.