UN refugee chief assesses Georgia's relief situation

Georgia Materials 19 August 2008 23:37 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, Tuesday began a four-day visit to Georgia to make a first-hand assessment of the needs of an estimated 158,700 refugees of the Caucasus conflict.

Guterres arrived in Georgian capital Tbilisi to begin his round of talks with Georgian government officials and was to go to South Ossetia, the breakaway Georgian province now occupied by Russian military.

The UN Security Council was scheduled to hold a new round of closed-door consultations on the situation in Georgia later Tuesday, but provided no details about its agenda.

The UN earlier appealed for 58.6 million dollars from the international community to help an estimated 130,000 Georgians affected by the conflict. But, the UN agency for refugees said the figure has been updated.

UNHCR said about 158,700 people have been uprooted by the fighting that erupted on August 7 in South Ossetia and widened to Abkhazia, which also wanted to secede from Tbilisi. It said South Ossetia has some 30,000 refugees and the remaining are in other parts of Georgia.

"The high commissioner will again press for the protection of the civilian population, especially those newly displaced, and for safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to the areas of displacement," said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic in Geneva.

Mahecic said UNHCR had flown in supplies for more than 50,000 people to Tbilisi, but road convoys could not reach western Georgia, where some 15,000 displaced people were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

He described the situation on the ground in Georgia as "volatile and unpredictable."

The amount of more than 56 million dollars sought by the UN would cover six months of humanitarian programmes to be carried out by UN relief agencies and non- governmental organizations.

"I hope the international community will show itself fully ready, capable and willing to help provide critically-needed assistance to the people of Georgia," said Catherine Bragg, a UN relief official said.

"While the most acute phase of the violence appears to have passed, until there a firm peace in the country we must be prepared to respond to a critical and fluctuating humanitarian situation," Bragg said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said donors had already provided 23 million dollars towards the appeal.