"The Streets are Empty and We Hear Sirens Much More Often"

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 Apr 15, 2020

Ana Kakushadze, IOM Georgia's Public Information Officer, outlines the challenges facing the mountainous South Caucasus republic, and how IOM is adapting in order to respond.

In Tbilisi and in other cities of Georgia, streets are mostly empty and we hear emergency vehicle sirens much more often than before.  The four main cities, Tbilisi, Rustavi, Batimu and Kutaisi and many villages are on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus.

Bringing back home thousands of Georgians stranded abroad remains the biggest challenge. Flights are being organized from various destinations, but it is not easy for many Georgians left without jobs in Greece, Italy, Poland, to afford the tickets.

Never mind tickets home, our migrants, left without income as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, can no longer afford food and shelter for themselves and their families. Some, working as caretakers, cannot leave behind the elderly persons they are looking after, even though they would prefer to come back to their families and their country, where there are less COVID-19 cases and more access to healthcare services for them.

The Georgian government has organized return flights to bring back over 5,000 citizens from China, Italy, Iran, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Greece, Belarus, the Netherlands, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the UK. Our embassies abroad are providing food, transportation, shelter, medicine, and online medical consultations to thousands of Georgian nationals stranded in up to 40 countries.

Within the framework of our safe migration campaign, we significantly scaled up our online counselling service to provide Georgian migrants stranded abroad with up-to date, reliable information on available services and return possibilities through our social media channels. We continue to provide reintegration assistance to migrants who returned to Georgia recently through our Assisted Voluntary Return programme, adapting the operational modalities to continue service provision and financial assistance to those most vulnerable and those with medical needs.

And we are still providing essential humanitarian assistance to vulnerable third country nationals stranded in Georgia who are at present unable to return to their countries of origin. Assistance includes cash grants enabling migrants to secure safe accommodation, purchase of food and essential items, as well as to connect online to search for information, or communicate with service providers and families.

In order to identify the needs of migrants residing in Georgia, assess their immediate humanitarian needs and estimate risks and vulnerabilities related to the COVID-19, we are conducting a rapid needs assessment. It’s a survey that targets  irregular migrants, migrant workers and foreign students, who are likely to be negatively impacted by the situation and in a situation of vulnerability due to linguistic and cultural barriers. The assessment will inform provision of assistance such as health services, information, cash assistance for food/shelter, or, for those who desire it, facilitated return to countries of origin.