Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Oct 24 14:07:20 UTC 2006

Eurasia Insight:

Since the spying row erupted between Russia and Georgia late last month,
Moscow's courts have ordered the deportation of nearly 700 Georgians. The
Russian authorities say that the vast majority of them have been deported
for immigration violations. But because rail and air links are still
suspended between the two countries, deportees have had to take
alternative routes back home. Many have ended up in Minsk, Yerevan, or
Baku. The Russian media has tended to characterize the deportees as common
criminals. And that, say many of them, is precisely how they end up

Up To One Million Georgians In Russia

Georgian citizen Dachi Kvikvinia, who was living and studying in Moscow,
is now back in Zugdidi, a city in western Georgia. He says he spent 11
years in Moscow with his family. "They put deportation stamps in our
passports. People and airport staff in Yerevan were staring at us as if we
were ill with leprosy," Kvikvinia says. There are thousands just like
Kvikvinia -- although it isn't clear exactly how many. There are an
estimated 400,000 to 1 million people Georgians living and working in
Russia, legally and illegally. The remittances those workers send home is
considerable. Georgia's Central Bank estimates Georgians transferred $220
million from Russia to Georgia in the first half of 2006 -- accounting for
nearly 15 percent of Georgia's GDP. Russia says the figure is considerably


The deportations are the latest in a series of measures against Georgian
migrants, including the tightening of immigration controls and raids on
Georgian-owned businesses. Some of those deported have said the Russian
authorities had no justification as their papers were in order. But Otari,
a Georgian citizen who arrived in the Azerbaijani capital Baku by train,
does not deny he was working illegally. "It's all politics. I don't
understand politics. I'm just a regular working man. Yes, I was working
[in Russia] illegally and that's why I got deported," Otari said. Most of
the deportees have had to fend for themselves -- which means, of course,
paying for their return home.

Maguli Legishvili, who spoke to RFE/RL upon arrival in Baku, says the
authorities immediately gave her 10 days to get out. "They said, 'You're
citizens of Georgia. Go to your Saakashvili,' and that's all. And so we
bought a ticket to Baku and came here. It was hard. We'll be going to
Tbilisi now," Legishvili says. Georgian parliamentarians have unanimously
declared the deportations to be "xenophobic" and "ethnic discrimination."
They say that Russia's measures are an expression of its anger at
Tbilisi's closer relationship with NATO. But Russia has defended itself,
saying it is rightfully deporting illegal immigrants -- just as other
countries would.

Expected EU Statement

So far, the international community has been cautious to weigh in on
either side. Meeting in Luxembourg today, EU foreign ministers were
expected to adopt a declaration that many say will be critical of Russia's
pressure on Georgia. Speaking at a press conference, EU External Relations
Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said today that the EU is "extremely
worried" about the current situation. "We are gravely concerned about the
continuing tensions between Georgia and Russia, and the measures taken
against Georgians, for instance, working in Russia or especially
schoolchildren in Russian schools, as well as also the pressure against
Georgian-owned businesses, and also the economic sanctions -- severed
transport links, bans on imports, closure of the borders," Ferrero-Waldner

Welcome words for those Georgians still in Russia, perhaps. But for those
already deported, they will be little comfort. For others it is already
too late. Tengiz Togonidze, a 58-year-old Georgian citizen accused of
being an illegal immigrant, died today while undergoing a deportation
hearing at a Moscow airport.

Editors Note: RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian services
provided the material for this feature.


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