Academic journal article Human Organization

Protracted Displacement in Georgia: Structural Vulnerability and "Existing Not Living"

Academic journal article Human Organization

Protracted Displacement in Georgia: Structural Vulnerability and "Existing Not Living"

Article excerpt

On October 27 2010,46-year-old Nana Pipia set herself on fire outside the office of the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodations, and Refugees (MRA)' in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital city. Ms. Pipia, who passed away several weeks later due to bum-related injuries, was one of more than approximately 251,000 people (mainly ethnic Georgians) who in the early 1990s fled Abkhazia during a civil war between that breakaway province and Georgia (IDMC 2012).2 For nearly two decades, she had been living as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), unable to safely return to Abkhazia and unable to achieve economic and social integration into Georgian society. Her marginalization and poverty were instantiated and exacerbated by limited opportunities for financial independence and inadequate assistance programs from the government.

According to news media sources, Ms. Pipia had joined a small group of people protesting the unjust treatment of IDPs by the Government, as part of a larger wave of protests that started in August of that same year.3 She, like many, had recently been offered new housing in a rural area of western Georgia that offered no viable prospects for employment or land suitable for growing food. Moving there would have also uprooted her from her social networks. During her meeting with an MRA official, she requested that she be provided with housing in Tbilisi rather than a remote area that would displace her yet again. In response to her complaint that there was nothing but grass near the new apartment, the official's reported response was "then you can live on grass" (Fuller 2010).

Fed up with such deplorable treatment, Ms. Pipia left the meeting and engaged in the devastating act of selfimmolation. Her public outcry was part of a growing dissent against the inhumane treatment of Georgia's substantial IDP population. In late August 2010, seven IDPs went on hunger strike, and four sewed their mouths shut (Civil.Ge 2010). Like Ms. Pipia, the symbolic use of their bodies expressed not only opposition against how they were being treated but also their lack of voice and participation in the housing relocation process. Their actions also tell an important, albeit distressing, story about the lived effects of iniquitous and ineffective solutions to Georgia's dire IDP problem in which more than 200,000 individuals remain caught.

In this article, I examine protracted displacement through the lens of IDPs' experiences with a shifting terrain of rights to durable and safe living conditions under the government's IDP Action Plan. I explore people's experiences with that Plan in the context of protracted displacement, poverty, and a state of vulnerability that many independently described to me as "existing, not living."

In the following two sections, respectively, I provide background information about displacement and social service programs for IDPs in Georgia and establish the article's theoretical framework. The remainder of the article focuses on the experiences of IDPs living in three of the collective centers where I worked to highlight how they are marginalized by a system of interventions designed to assist them. In order to highlight how IDPs experience protracted displacement in contemporary Georgia, I organize the ethnographic material by three themes: information gaps, "adaptability" and poverty, and the distinction between existing and living. These themes were prominent in the majority of my research encounters, and they bring into sharp relief how interventions and assistance programs keep IDPs caught in a bureaucratic flux that perpetually recreates them as subjects and objects of intervention, making it virtually impossible to achieve social integration. From this standpoint, the IDPs with whom I worked are perpetual moving targets for intervention. However, the bureaucratic terms of the Action Plan and the requirements they must meet to be afforded their "rights" under those terms mean that they are, paradoxically, seen as a category of person that is unwilling or unable to adapt by the very programs that simultaneously define them as a population and reinforce their marginalization and vulnerability. …

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