Batumi becomes the 16th city to join the Shelter City initiative for human rights defenders

The Georgian coastal city of Batumi joins the Shelter City network, a worldwide initiative and network of cities offering temporary relocation and training to human rights defenders at risk.

On 15 May, 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara pledging to work together on the creation of a safe and favourable environment for human rights defenders from Central Asia, Belarus, Russia and some parts of the Ukraine. The Memorandum was signed by the Head of the Committee, Ilia Verdzadze, Executive Director of Truth Hounds, Svitlana Valko, and Executive Director of the Centre for Participation and Development, Giorgi Marjanishvili. As a result, Batumi joins Tbilisi as the second city in Georgia to offer protection to human rights defenders (HRDs), and the sixteenth city worldwide.

“Batumi is one of the centres of Georgia. It is a place with a developed and inclusive civil society. Shelter beneficiaries can discover the famous Georgian hospitality, national characteristics, and all the passion and scale of Georgia here.” – Head of the Committee, Ilia Verdzadze

Batumi has already received its first Shelter City guest from Chechnya, and will provide support and protection to three and up to six human rights defenders per year including those with minors from Central Asia, Belarus, Russia and some parts of the Ukraine. The new Shelter City will provide temporary relocation to HRDs at risk, medical services, educational training, and capacity building courses.

Offering a safe haven for rehabilitation and families

A unique aspect of Shelter City Batumi is its dedication to the varied needs of human rights defenders. Based on the experiences of Shelter City Tbilisi and studies on the situation of HRDs, the programme will focus its support on guests with dependents, those who need rehabilitation, or those who need enhanced privacy. Additionally, the shelter will ensure that all guests meet their development and rehabilitation goals during their stay.

Out of the up to six guests per year, Batumi hopes to host four guests with dependents. This development marks an important step to increasing protection for human rights defenders, with a particular focus on women human rights defenders (WHRDs). Based on the cases of previous Shelter City guests, the care of dependents remains an obstacle to receiving support such as temporary relocation, despite an increasing sharing of responsibility for the care for dependents between men and women. As a result, more human rights defenders that would otherwise not be able to participate in the programme will have the opportunity to receive needed protection and support.

Batumi’s first Shelter City guest

The first guest of Shelter City Batumi is a women human rights defender from Chechnya, who faces ongoing pressure from the authorities, as well as on her husband and children.

When asked about her stay so far, she said: “I always feel relaxed and safe in Georgia, it’s impossible to have bad feelings about this country. I’m looking forward to spending more time on the sea and I will soon start my driving lessons and massages. I’m also looking forward to my psychological counselling sessions and I will have consultations with a cardiologist. I hope the time I spend here in Batumi will be relaxing and that I will go back refreshed.”

Expansion of Shelter City in Georgia and worldwide

In 2017, Tbilisi, Georgia became the first international city outside of the Netherlands to join the Shelter City initiative under the initiative of the Tbilisi-based organisations, the Center for Participation and Development and Truth Hounds. Located in the heart between Europe and Asia and with an active civil society, Georgia is an ideal place for human rights defenders to take a break and re-energise, or develop new skills. And since its establishment, the city has relocated 80 human rights defenders from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iraq.

Outside of Georgia, the initiative is active in 12 cities in the Netherlands, and internationally in Costa Rica and Tanzania, with Benin and Italy currently in the process. The Shelter City initiative was founded in 2012 by Hague-based human rights organisation, Justice and Peace Netherlands. Each Shelter City is a collaboration between local organisations, municipalities, universities, embassies, and government institutions.

The opening of Shelter City Batumi was made possible thanks to the kind support of the National Endowment for Democracy.