11 July 2017

Meet Sascha, founder of Shelter City Tbilisi in Georgia

Shelter City

Meet Sascha, a human rights defender from Ukraine, who together with her colleagues is the founder of the first Shelter City outside of Netherlands and Western Europe: Tbilisi, Georgia. She spent seven years in this country, working for different International and local Rights Protection Organizations.

“I was – and still am – convinced of the need for more shelters.”

She started working in the field of human rights in 2004, driven by her personal and professional fields of interest varying from the rights of minorities and non-discrimination, to international advocacy and the security of human rights defenders. 

Her first contact with Justice and Peace Netherlands took place ten years ago, when her organization formed a partnership with Justice and Peace, to work on ethnic minorities in Georgia.

One thing led to another: Sascha started to give security trainings for human rights defenders, and joined The Hague Training Course’s team. She participated actively to the discussions about the Shelter City initiative. “I was – and still am – convinced of the need for more shelters; human rights defenders are more and more at risk! 2016 was considered by Amnesty International as a pick year for the danger of being a human rights defender.”

Why expand the Shelter City network outside Western Europe?

Most of the shelters for human rights defenders are located in Western Europe (the biggest network is in Netherlands, there are also projects in Chzech Republic and Lithuania), in the Schengen countries. This comes with visa application difficulties, that allow human rights defenders a limited number of days to relocate, and imposes high costs of living. Moreover, most of the former Soviet Union’s human rights defenders speak Russian only.

These are some of the reasons that led Sascha and her colleagues to create a Shelter City in Georgia (‘one of the most successful transitional democracies’, as she describes it). In six months, this shelter has offered temporary asylum and other services to 23 human rights defenders. Among them, “some were relocated in emergency, overnight. They receive services such as medical and psychological support, and keys to prevent a burn out after having escaped dangerous situations. Their accommodation in Tbilisi depends on their psychological condition: they can stay in a shared house that includes a big room for those who come with their families; they might also need to be alone and stay in a separate apartment. In case someone arrives overnight, we always keep a free room.”

‘I am very happy about the partnership with Justice and Peace, the Tbilisi Shelter City programme would never have come true without it.’

Photo: Daniella van Bergen