150,000 potential refugees in Georgia conflict, EU says

Georgia Materials 14 August 2008 17:33 (UTC +04:00)

The European Commission appealed Thursday to all sides in the Georgia-Russia conflict to ensure the safe access of humanitarian aid to the region, with latest estimates out of Brussels suggesting some 150,000 potential refugees could be affected by the fighting, dpa reported.

Of these, 45,000 were to be found in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia and 60,000 in and around the Georgian town of Gori. A further 45,000 ethnic-Georgian refugees were believed to be in Abkhazia, Georgia's other predominantly Russian region.

As of Wednesday evening, the overall number of refugees and internally-displaced people totalled 90,000, said John Clancy, spokesman for the EU's development and humanitarian aid commission.

Data provided to the EU by the Russian migration service put the number of displaced people in North Ossetia at 13,500.

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Danish Refugee Council have both warned of dire conditions at Georgia's 71 facilities for displaced people.

"These sites are crowded and lack the minimum basics, (including) beds," Clancy said.

The commission warned that Moscow's recent announcement of a cessation of hostilities "has not yet reflected particularly into any improvement in terms of access for humanitarian aid workers at this point."

"We appeal to all sides ... for free and secure access for all international humanitarian workers and their organizations so that they can carry out a very important task, which is to provide essential assistance to the most vulnerable at this time," Clancy said.

Officials in Brussels said that while Georgia's Tbilisi and Butani airports were able to receive cargos, South Ossetia remained "generally off limits" for humanitarian workers. Access to Georgian seaports also remained "a challenge," Clancy said.

"Long-term food security will probably be a concern in this country," he added, noting that many of the displaced people were farmers who had lost their harvests or reserves.

In the meantime, 11 EU member states have responded to Georgia's request for assistance by providing civil protection help.

The help is in the form of medical supplies, blankets, shelter and food.