Tbilisi Reiterates EU Visa-free Travel Promise to Abkhazia, S. Ossetia

Residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia can benefit from visa-free travel to Schengen group of countries, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili stated on March 28, the day the visa-free regime went into force.

Responding to the earlier criticism of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali authorities, that Tbilisi’s offer is an attempt to “entice” the two regions’ residents, President Margvelashvili underlined that the visa-free travel is not to “lure” anyone.

“We are strengthening and developing our country in the European direction, hoping that our citizens, including the ones living in the occupied territories, will benefit from it,” Margvelashvili explained.

“I believe that the European integration will enable us to find the European ways of solving our conflicts. Solving the difficulties that exist between us and the citizens living in the occupied territories, should happen in a peaceful manner and in accordance to the very formats and traditions that the European states are using to solve these problems,” he added.

In a much similar manner, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said on March 28, following his meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that “the visa-free regime with the European Union is an important gain for the entire population of Georgia, including especially for the residents of occupied territories.”

State Minister for Reconciliation Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, who addressed the residents of the two regions in her March 28 statement, said that it is “tragic and paradoxical” that the visa waiver “will enable the Georgian citizens to move freely across thousands of kilometers, while the residents of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region are held captive behind barbed wires and are isolated from the rest of Georgia and the world.”

“I would like to reiterate to the population of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region that their fate matters to us and that we want them to make use of those great benefits, which will be available to Georgian citizens from today on,” Tsikhelashvili stated.

“While they cannot move freely even for several meters to earn their living, we enable them to use the passports of Georgian citizens and travel to the European Union without visas. It is a perspective for a better future for them, which they have been deprived of under occupation,” Ketevan Tsikhelashvili concluded.

The State Minister for Reconciliation told Civil.ge on February 9 that residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia can only benefit from visa-free travel to Schengen group of countries if they accept Georgian citizenship.

According to the Minister, the government’s efforts will be aimed at facilitating access to the residents of the two breakaway provinces to obtaining the citizenship, both through establishing the offices of the relevant public services closer to the Administrative Boundary Lines with the two provinces, and through easing of procedures.