Rescue workers at the Enguri River (RFE/RL)

TBILISI, DFWatch–Four people were found dead on the banks of the Enguri River on Wednesday. The four are believed to have  drowned as they tried to cross from Abkhazia to Georgian-controlled territory bypassing Russian border guards and Abkhaz customs officers. 

Rescue workers found the bodies of three people Wednesday morning, and a fourth body in the evening the same day.

The victims are residents of Gali district, where the majority of the population are ethnic Georgians, who have been discriminated against by the Sukhumi regime and the Russian occupation forces for many years.

Because of these discriminatory policies, crossing the administrative border through official channels is associated with many difficulties, in addition to the restrictions imposed by the Georgian government during the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, many of them choose the dangerous option of crossing the dividing line on foot, bypassing the Enguri checkpoint, a route which involves wading across the river.

The tragedy, which killed four people, is likely related to rising water levels on the Enguri River, which, according to the Enguri hydropower authority, was caused by recent rains.

Figures published by the breakaway authorities in Sukhumi indicate 3,000 people were detained in the first quarter of 2021 for “illegal border crossing”, most of whom were released after paying fines.

The State Security Service of Georgia (SUSI) stated that the tragedy “represents a result of restrictions unlawfully imposed by the occupation regime over free movement and the damaging practice of unlawful detentions.”“The occurred fact is another demonstration of the anti-human and criminal essence of accompanying processes of occupation, for which the Russian Federation is held fully responsible. Over the years, illegally imposed so-called regulations and restrictions over free movement have significantly complicated everyday lives of the local residents and many lost their lives due to them. With  the participation of international partners an issue of responsibility of the occupation regime will be strictly brought up into the facts of unlawful restrictions over free movement and unlawful detentions,” the SUSI statement reads.