Displacement and Illicit Livelihoods in the Republic of Georgia

Authors: Elizabeth Dunn*, Indiana University
Topics: Migration, Political Geography, East Europe
Keywords: Forced migration, refugees, IDPs, Georgia, former USSR, smuggling, labor markets, humanitarian aid
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Reestablishing livelihoods is one of the most difficult challenges displaced people face. In camps, which are far from urban centers, finding paid work can be difficult if not impossible. In cities, even if displaced people have the legal right to work, they may find themselves informally shut out of labor markets. Under these circumstances, many displaced people attempt to leverage their connections in both their place of origin and in their new location in order to engage in smuggling. Using ethnographic research conducted in the Republic of Georgia with people displaced from South Ossetia a decade ago, I show how displaced people’s unique relationship to borders allows them to circumvent chokepoints, render impermeable material barriers into more permeable social ones, and to avoid surveillance. I show how they use kinship and the ties of place create underground channels through which contraband goods—everything from fruit and construction materials to drugs, guns and nuclear materials-- flow. But although smuggling provides the hope of a potentially viable livelihood that is more reliable than long-term dependence on aid. But it also creates new forms of risk for the displaced, including the risk that they will no longer be seen as “vulnerable” and thus made ineligible for humanitarian aid.

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