“People were not prepared for the Russians entering their homes. They just fled. They didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t know where they were going to stay.”
Caritas Internationalis Vice President and President of Caritas Europe, Fr Erny Gillen, has just returned from a visit to Georgia where tens of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape recent conflict.
In early August, smouldering tensions in the country flared up into outright conflict when heavy fighting broke out in the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
People fled their homes and sought safety wherever they could find it. Fr Gillen visited one of these places – a former military hospital run by Caritas and other NGOs in the capital Tbilisi where over 280 families have taken shelter.
“Caritas helps these families by running a soup kitchen to provide them with food,” says Fr Gillen.
He emphasises the need to keep people active so they do not sit around and dwell on their experiences.
“We make sure the families help in the preparation of the food. We also make sure the children are kept occupied with educational games, because the impact of the conflict can be particularly bad on them,” he says.
A big problem for the people affected by the conflict in Georgia, says Fr Gillen, is that they are aware that they are no longer controlling their own territory or future.
“Caritas is putting people in a position where they can regain control of their lives,” says Fr Gillen.
Caritas also runs a bakery which provides bread and hot meals to people who have no other means of getting food.
Fr Gillen says that the large number of people that has fled to Tbilisi is putting the city’s resources under strain.
“We visited the Ministry of Refugees and one of their representatives said that the city will collapse, because you just can’t add all of these people, The city wasn’t prepared for an extra 100,000 inhabitants,” he said.
As the uncertainty continues for the people who have fled their homes and abandoned their daily lives, Caritas plans ahead.
“After the first phase of emergency we are now together with the Caritas network planning the second phase. Therefore a first assessment will be done and the coordination with other Caritas members will be planned,” says Fr Gillen.
Fr Gillen says that Caritas in Russia and in Georgia have been working hard on both sides of the border to help people in need.
“The international caritas network makes no difference when it comes to borders or nationalities. We care for people in need. And we request access to all people who need support in these days of uncertainty,” he says.