Georgians displaced in South Ossetian conflict get Internet access thanks to UN

2 February 2010Thousands of Georgians displaced by the 2008 conflict with Russia over South Ossetia are getting access to computers for their education and livelihood purposes, thanks to an initiative by the United Nations refugee agency. “Knowledge is a key, and this programme is giving that key to IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees here,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Peter Nicolaus said at the opening this past weekend of Georgia’s first Community Technology Access (CTA) centre in the new settlement of Karaleti in the Shida Kartli region, close to the breakaway region of South Ossetia.The region shelters about 30,000 people who fled their homes during the brief conflict in August 2008 and some 4,200 of the IDPs live in the nine settlements.UNHCR and its implementing partner, World Vision International, plan to open similar centres in the coming weeks in eight more settlements in Shida Kartli and two in north-eastern Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, where some 800 Chechen refugees are rebuilding their lives with support from UNHCR and its partners.“Having access to the internet means I can stay up-to-date with new information and pass it on to my students,” said Sophio Melquoshvili, who now teaches in a primary school.Another IDP, Marika Gochashvili, used to be a nurse but cannot find nursing jobs in Karaleti. “So I am interested in learning as much as I can about ICT [information and communications technology] so that I can teach others,” she said.The CTA programme was announced last September at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative by UNHCR and its corporate partners, Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Under the first phase, successful pilot projects were launched in refugee camps in Rwanda and Bangladesh. The centres in Georgia are being opened under the project’s second phase, which will see computer technology brought to IDPs in Georgia and up to eight other countries.The centres will provide classes for children and computer literacy courses and distance learning for youth and adults. Other services will include entrepreneurship training, business centres, employment services and career counselling. Where possible, CTAs will generate income to cover costs.Shida Kartli’s Deputy Governor Giorgi Avaliani applauded the opening of the centre and thanked UNHCR for helping the IDPs. “I am sure that new technologies, and access to those technologies, will change their everyday life,” he said, adding that the project “will have a very satisfying result.”