Country profile

Georgia

General information

Situated in the Caucasus at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia is at once a country of transit, emigration and destination. With a population of 4.7 million, one third of the inhabitants are below the poverty line and 16 per cent are unemployed [1] Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia has experienced sustained emigration ; every fifth family in Georgia depends on money transfers from abroad [2].

During the recent elections (October 2012), out of 3.6 million voters, 305,315 voters on electoral lists were marked as ‘being abroad’ of which only 43,176 are registered with Georgian consulates abroad to cast ballot ; 191,890 are ‘undocumented’ voters ; 54,019 are in military service ; 116 are European Union (EU) citizens.

Most Georgian migrants are women who seek work (cleaner, carer) in Turkey and Greece, whilst many Georgian men also travel to these two countries to work as a farm or building labourer. Whilst Russia has traditionally been a favoured destination for Georgian migrants, European countries are increasingly being favoured, especially since a wave of deportations from Russian following the 2008 conflict. President Saakashvili’s hard-line policy against the mafia leaders, or so called thieves-in-law, who controlled much of the country in the post-Soviet years, has meant that many of these criminals have settled in Russia or EU countries since the Rose Revolution in 2004.

Considering their small number, Georgians represent a large proportion of migrants entering Europe from the former Soviet states (referred to as the Commonwealth of Independent States, although Georgia left the CIS in August 2009). In Frontex’s Annual Risk Analysis 2012, out of 6,200 illegal border crossings detected on the eastern borders route, Georgians came fourth place after Ukrainians, Moldovans and Russians, with 544 detected crossings or 9.5% of the total. The presence of Georgian asylum seekers in the EU is also a significant slice of the whole ; they made up 9.8% of asylum applications in the EU in 2011 (a 46% increase on 2010) [3].

As a result of recent conflicts in the Caucasus (Chechen war in 1999, South Ossetia and Abkhazia conflicts in early 1990’s and again in 2008), there is a significant population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Georgia, temporarily housed in camps [4] and unable to return to their homes in the conflict zones.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) [5] has been present on the de facto borders of the Russian-occupied breakaway territories since 2008. Starting in 2004, Georgia, under president Saakashivili, adopted a clearly pro-EU (and anti-Russian) policy, making no secret of the country’s aspiration to join the EU and NATO [6]. The European Union – Georgia European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan (ENP AP) was signed in 2006. The ENP AP calls for enhanced cooperation in the field of border management and migration. This involves, for example, the creation of a national action plan on migration and asylum issues, the establishment of an electronic database for the monitoring of migration flows and cooperation on reintegration of returned migrants [7].

Legislation on immigration
Georgia has a very liberal visa regime and currently places few restrictions on immigration. Citizens of the United States of America (USA), all EU countries and a long list of other countries may enter Georgia without a visa and stay for 360 days. Citizens of Russia may enter visa-free and stay for 90 days. Those requiring a visa may buy one in consulates or at road and air borders for 10 USD.

There are free entry agreements – with an unlimited duration of stay – with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.

Migrants may work in Georgia, as no specific work visa is required. A Ministry of Labour has only recently been created (July 2012) so this may change soon. The immigration quota for those being awarded permanent residency permits it set at 150-200 per year [8].

Asylum
Georgia passed a law regulating the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers as well as the grounds for granting, suspending and cancelling refugee status in 1998. In 1999, Georgia signed the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. A further law on refugee and humanitarian status was adopted December 2011 [9]. As well as establishing the grounds for humanitarian status, the law stipulated that after illegally crossing the border, a person seeking for shelter in Georgia will be obliged to apply to a state body within 24 hours.
Since 1999, Georgia has been a transit or destination country for Chechen refugees. According to the data of the year 2000, refugee status on the territory of Georgia had been given to more than 6700 people, the majority of whom were Chechen [10]. Chechen refugees mainly lived in the Pankisi Gorge region in north-east Georgia where there is a significant population of Kists, who are also ethnically Chechen, but have settled permanently in Georgia. In 2002, 305 Chechen refugees were resettled from Georgia to Canada and Sweden by the UNHCR. In recent years, there has been a steady outward movement of Chechen refugees from Georgia to third countries. Several NGO’s such as Human Rights Center Georgia have reported that in the period 2003-7 there was a mass repeal of Chechens’ refugee status by the government and forced naturalisation of these refugees as Georgian citizens [11].

Since 2010, asylum seekers and refugees have been offered accommodation at Georgia’s only refugee reception centre in Martkopi (40km east from Tbilisi), whose construction was funded by UNHCR, the US State Commission and the European Commission [12]. It is an open accommodation centre with 60 places (currently it is half full). In 2012, it housed migrants from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Russia, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries. Its running costs are split between UNHCR and the Georgian government – the goal being to entirely devolve responsibility to Georgia in the coming years. Asylum seekers and refugees receive an 80 lari (40 euro) monthly allowance from the government.

According to information provided by the UNHCR in July 2012, Georgia receives on average 100 applications for asylum per year, and there are currently around 300 people with refugee status in Georgia [13].

Detention

Article 62 of the Georgian Law on the Legal Status of Aliens [14] states that migrants subject to supervised expulsion can be administratively detained [15]. Migrants can also be detained administratively until their identity, citizenship, country of their permanent residence or country they have entered Georgia from are verified. By law, the detainee must be presented to the court no more than 48 hours after arrest and released in the following 24 hours if a decision is not taken to extend detention. Other migration offences, such as visa overstaying, are subject to fines.

Those migrants who cross the border illegally or arrive in Georgia with falsified documents are subject to much harsher punishment and are frequently detained in prisons, in some cases for several years, even in the case of immediately stating a desire to make an asylum claim.

This mainly concerns migrants who enter Georgia without passing official registration and so are held liable for the crime of illegal border crossing, as stipulated by Article 344 of the Criminal Code of Georgia [16].

Those convicted of migration offences are generally placed in Gldani prison (in the Tbilisi northern suburbs) with people convicted of less serious economic crimes. Some migrants may serve several months and then be offered the possibility to go free in return for a fine of approximately 400 euro. Others stay in prison for much longer : one person from Cameroon is currently serving a seven and a half year sentence for falsified travel documents [17]. According to one ex-prisoner, at the time of his sentence (Jan-May 2012), there were approximately ten Africans in Gldani prison on charges of false documents, and several dozen others from Asian countries who were imprisoned for illegal border crossing [18].

There is currently no detention centre for migrants and no active tracking of irregular migrants in the territory in order to then detain them in such a specialised facility [19]. In addition, there is no actual policy of deporting migrants.

Georgia has one of the highest prison populations per capita in the world. The conviction rate is 99.9% ; in 2011, 140 people died in prisons, largely from tuberculosis due to unsanitary conditions [20]. Access of journalists and NGOs to prisons is very limited. Large demonstrations about prison abuse broke out immediately before the parliamentary elections of October 2012.

Unaccompanied minors

Special provisions have been made for guardianship of unaccompanied minors in Georgian law but according to information from UNHCR [21] and the Ministry for Refugees [22], this legislation has not been put into practice as the problem of unaccompanied minors is not present in Georgia.

Readmission agreements

The readmission agreement and visa facilitation package signed with the EU came into operation in March 2011. Bilateral readmission agreements had previously been negotiated with 15 countries, including Switzerland, Ukraine, Italy, Sweden and France. In the 18 months following the implementation of the readmission agreement, 1220 migrants were deported to Georgia (an average of 68 deportees per month) [23].

Also in March 2011, the EU-funded Targeted Initiative for Georgia (TIG) was launched, a 3-year programme designed at ’reintegrating’ returned Georgians, through providing temporary accommodation, careers advice and training and business start-up grants. Georgians who have returned from a stay abroad of more than six months within the past year may register voluntarily with the programme. There is no obligation to have lived in the EU or to have been part of a forced or voluntary return programme. As of October 2012, there were 922 migrants on their database, with the top five countries of origin being Greece, Germany, Turkey, Poland and Austria. Other data recorded include the migrants’ name, age, form of return (readmission, deportation, AVR), marital status, gender and education [24] .

Border surveillance

Georgia shares borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey. With a total of 1,461 km state borders (including 310 km of sea borders), the country operates 19 official border crossings, 16 of which have international and 3 interstate status [25]. Georgia’s borders with its two South Caucasian neighbours, Armenia and Azerbaijan, are currently not subject to extensive policing, whilst the Turkish-Georgian section of the border (263km) is subject to greater surveillance by border police.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conducted an information-gathering mission on illegal border crossings in Georgia which ended in December 2004. Following this, the EU established a ’monitoring group’ within Georgia’s Border Police in September 2005 [26]. Equipment such as night vision devices, uniforms, vehicles and speed-boats were received from the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom (UK), Ukraine and other countries [27]. In mid-2006, all land and sea borders between Georgia and Russia were closed following a unilateral decision from Russia as a result of strained diplomatic relations ; this policy has recently been relaxed and border crossings are now possible, except in the two breakaway regions.

As part of the requirements of the Neighbourhood Policy with the EU and in the context of the Eastern Partnership, Georgia developed an Integrated Border Management Strategy in 2011, which came into force in October 2012 [28]. As part of this strategy, a border enhancement project has begun at the Bagratashen-Sadakhlo checkpoint on the Georgian-Armenian border [29].

Georgian border police and Frontex signed a working arrangement for co-operation in 2008 [30] . According to information from the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, in the framework of this agreement, Georgian border police are involved in various Frontex programs, training, seminars, conferences and joint operations on land, sea and air borders as observers [31].
Various illegal activities and hazards have been regularly reported on the borders, such as illegal payments demanded from customs, kidnappings and landmines [32].

Georgian civil society

As well as the presence of international organisations such as UNHCR, DRC and IOM, there are numerous and largely foreign-funded NGO’s in Georgia concerned with the promotion of democracy, anti-corruption, human rights etc. Georgian civil society frequently reacts to current events with protests and demonstrations (as was seen in the run-up to the October 2012 parliamentary elections). However, there is currently no identifiable movement of migrant solidarity, resistance to deportations or questioning of EU migration policies.

The emphasis of many NGO’s is on integration and support of Internally Displaced People, who are still living in camps following the Abkhazian and Ossetian conflicts, and eco-migrants displaced within the country as a result of natural disasters.

In addition to TIG’s reintegration programme (mentioned above), several NGO’s cooperate with the readmission agreement and various voluntary return programmes. These include People In Need, People’s Harmonious Development Society and Georgian Young Lawyers Association, who in November 2012 launched a 3-year EU funded project aiming at reintegrating returned migrants and promoting legal means of migration. Some smaller NGO’s, such as the Youth Association Droni and the Centre for Migrants’ Protection and Integration, have run some small projects aimed at integrating third-country migrants into Georgia and tackling racism.

Bibliography

European Neighbourhood Policy Report, European Commission, May 2012

European Neighbourhood Policy and Georgia. Analysis of Independent Experts. 2007. ’Efficient management of the borders’, Olga Dorokhina

IOM Review of Migration Management in Georgia, 2008

Human Rights Centre Georgia, Pankisi Deadlock : Plight of Chechen Refugees in Georgia, 2007

Human Rights Centre Georgia, Annual Report 2011

Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Georgia’s Progress Report on Implementation of the ENP Action Plan, 2010

Frontex Annual Risk Analysis, 2012 http://www.frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/EB_AO.pdf

’New refugee status in Georgia’, Rusiko Machaidze, 9 November 2011, http://dfwatch.net/new-refugee-status-in-georgia-60606

’New EU funding to improve border management and regional cooperation in the Eastern Partnership’, Brussels, 25 September 2012, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1007_en.htm

Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens http://www.unhcr.org/4ad82a239.pdf

Press release, ’IOM hosted coordination meeting on readmission’, http://www.informedmigration.ge/news.php?i_business

Presentation, Targeted Initiative for Georgia http://www.etf.europa.eu/eventsmgmt.nsf/%28getAttachment%29/A64A5AD9E4BE114BC12579BA005840C4/$File/Day2_5_Hejina.pdf