March 2, 2018
Tbilisi celebrates one year as part of Shelter City
As Tbilisi celebrates one year as being part of Shelter City, the founders of Shelter City Georgia think back at the creation of the first Shelter City outside of the Netherlands and what they have learned during this time.
Shelter City Georgia was created in 2016 by a group of Georgian and Ukrainian human rights defenders. They were activists themselves so they were aware of the physical and psychological demands that come with defending human rights.
Georgia was the perfect place for establishing a Shelter City. It is located between Central Asia and Eastern Europe and close to various countries where human rights defenders are at risk. They are persecuted, jailed, tortured or even killed.
The founders of Shelter City Georgia knew that it was important to establish a safe space for these human rights defenders closeby and within a similar cultural context as theirs.
In their words: “It is hard to believe now that in the first year alone, we have hosted 32 defenders from all over the region: from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Crimea.”
The founders of Shelter City Georgia shared that they considered the experience of their Dutch colleagues when deciding to make Georgia the first Shelter City outside of the Netherlands.
They also explained that they soon understood that having a safe space to rest is vital for human rights defenders. So they tailored their support to offer this service: “after decades spent taking urgent calls over weekends, waiting for an unannounced visit from state security services and sudden arrest, our guests finally had time to unwind”.
Another lesson that the coordinators of Shelter City Georgia have learned is that supporting human rights defenders in tending for their mental health is important. While there may be initial skepticism in seeking help, it is a really appreciated service by human rights defenders.
“We learn to listen, to hear and to adjust. We work for outstanding people and we are happy to walk along with them for at least a tiny part of their lives.”