Georgian villagers living near demarcation lines with two breakaway regions say their quality of life has declined since physical barriers were built, cutting them off from family, land, and markets.
A report published on July 3 by London-based Amnesty International cited villagers as also complaining that they are often “arbitrarily” detained by Russia-backed authorities while attempting to cross the borders that are recognized by just a few Moscow-allied countries.
“Villagers -- some living in the poorest parts of the country -- have lost access to pastures, farmland, and orchards, to sources of water in summer, and firewood for winter,” the report said.
Following a five-day war in August 2008 between Georgia and Russia, the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence from Tbilisi with Kremlin support. The two regions account for about 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.
For the past decade, Russian forces have been trying to turn “dotted lines” on a map into a physical international border, disrupting life, the report said. Physical barriers now cut through at least 34 villages, Georgian authorities told Amnesty.
The forces have used various means to create a physical border including barbed-wire, metal or wooden fences, and trenches. They have also installed signs and surveillance equipment, it said.
A barbed-wire border that cut through the village of Khurvaleti separated Davit Vanishvili from his family, forcing his relatives to pass his pension and medicine through the fence after sunset, according to the report.
“The constraints placed on their freedom of movement also negatively impact on other rights, eroding living standards, impairing access to agricultural land, health care, places of worship and education, and entrenching discriminatory attitudes and measures," the report said.
In areas where there is no physical border, villagers often don’t know where the demarcation line is, resulting in their detention, Amnesty said.
As many as 1,000 Georgian families have lost partial or total access to farmland they worked as well as forests they used, the report said.
Amnesty said it does not know how many families on the other side of the border in the breakaway regions are impacted as they were not given access by local or Russian officials.
The rights watchdog said it spoke with more than 150 people on the Georgian side for its report, in addition to Georgian government officials.