Complaining about a lack of Georgian-language instruction, ethnic Georgian students from the breakaway region of Abkhazia are regularly sneaking past armed Russian border guards to attend classes in Georgian-controlled territory. But the covert crossings, a potential security debacle in the making, are so far raising few alarms.
De facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maxim Gunjia states that ethnic Georgian children from Abkhazia’s southern region of Gali, a predominantly ethnic Georgian area, are free to go to school in the neighboring Georgian-controlled region of Samegrelo, or other such regions so long as they exit Abkhazia at official checkpoints along the Inguri River. The river, one of the Caucasus’ potential flashpoints, serves as the de facto border between separatist Abkhazia and Georgian-controlled territory.
But this is no ordinary walk to school. When the checkpoints are closed, Gali schoolchildren simply slip across on their own, opting for trails via crop fields that abut Georgian-controlled territory. The routes bring them into potential contact with Russian border guards stationed along the Abkhaz side of the Inguri River.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi. Caucasus News Editor Elizabeth Owen added reporting to this story.