Sunday, 17 August 2008

Irish passport-holders play waiting game in Armenia

The Irish Times Saturday, August 16,


EIGHT Irish passport-holders are nervously waiting in a hotel in the Armenian capital of Yerevan before deciding whether to return to Georgia.

The group, mainly Georgians with Irish passports and some Irish nationals, were among 50 people evacuated via the Armenian border at Gugeti when fighting broke out in South Ossetia.

Kerryman Dr Mike McCarthy, who runs the International Medical Support Services (IMSS) clinic from Tbilisi, assisted in evacuating the Irish and Georgian passport-holders by helping with transport and logistics through the eastern side of Georgia to Armenia.

"The people evacuated were going to come back, but the reports about renegade Ossetian militia looting near the capital have spooked them.

"Most of the other Irish and passport-holders have made their way back to Ireland or gone on holiday," said Dr McCarthy.

His wife's Georgian family mostly live in the bombed port of Poti and have been affected.

"Her cousin was killed and another cousin was badly injured when the Russian attack helicopters bombed Poti. She hasn't been able to reach her father since the first bombs fell a week ago."

Telephone and mobile communication in Georgia has been difficult. Dr McCarthy's wife Nina, who is seven months pregnant, was supposed to go to Ireland for the birth but will not move until she hears news of her father.

Dr McCarthy's IMSS clinic, which employs expatriate and internationally-trained Georgian doctors to service foreign embassies and the oil and gas industries, has been providing help to the capital's overwhelmed hospitals.

"We have appealed directly to the Americans here and Micheál Martin to provide aid and basic medicine," said Dr McCarthy, who first came to Georgia 11 years ago to work on a major oil project.

"Poti is bombed back to the last decade, Gori is flattened and life in Tbilisi remains okay. All just as the economy was outperforming India; it has now been blown to bits," said the doctor, who has had to cut his 20 medical staff to a skeleton crew of eight.

Fellow Irishman Jeffrey Kent runs a contracting firm in Georgia which drills for gold and copper on behalf of a Russian company, and had to evacuate his Romanian drillers via Armenia.

He said: "I had to get the Romanian guys evacuated last Friday by crossing the border into Armenia. As they were passing a military airfield at Marneuli near the border some Russian Mig planes just dropped in and bombed the runway. They were only 300m from the explosions and did not get injured, but they were very traumatised. They are in Romania now and do not want to come back."

Originally from Terryglass, Co Tipperary, Mr Kent is a contractor for a Russian miner in the town of Kazreti, about a 90-minute drive from Tbilisi.

"I will stay here and work from here until things settle down. My only concern is if the locals take it out on the Russian company."

© 2008 The Irish Times

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