The de facto Abkhazian authorities frequently close the sole remaining checkpoint towards Tbilisi controlled Georgia at the Enguri Bridge near Zugdidi. The reasons vary per occasion, but in every instance it hinders freedom of movement principles. Since 2017 the Enguri Bridge is the only official crossing point for passage of locals, after other minor ones were closed.
This page logs closures (and reopening) of the Enguri Bridge to provide insight in scale and impact on humanitarian circumstances such as medical aid, education access of students and so on. Also arrests near the ABL are logged here in lack of a separate page. Most recent updates at the top.
On 1 november 2023 eight Iraqi refugees were detained by Russian controlled forces on the Enguri bridge while attempting to enter Abkhazia from the Georgian controlled side. They were returned to the Georgian authorities. Deputy Head of the Analytical Service of the State Security Service of Georgia Antadze said they were legally in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia, and with the participation of the European Union observation mission, they were returned from the occupied territory.
With the start of the new schoolyear, schools in the Georgian populated Gali district in Abkhazia won’t be allowed to educate Georgian as a first language but only as a foreign language. Instead, pupils are forced to receive education in Russian. This impacts those who wish to receive education in Georgian as access to education in Tbilisi controlled territory is often hampered by closure of the checkpoints. This results in risky irregular crossing of the Enguri River.
The de facto Foreign Ministry of the Abkhazia region says the early release of Georgian citizen Irakli Bebua, who was illegally sentenced to nine years in prison back in December 2020, is ‘not on the agenda’. The Abkhaz authorities said Bebua was “lawfully sentenceed for committing a crime”. The Georgian government expressed hope of a release after the succesful release of Zaza Gageladze from South Ossetia detention in July 2021.
In the village of Shamgona, Zugdidi Municipality, rescuers recovered on 7 April 2021 the bodies of 3 citizens from the Enguri River. Later that day a fourth body was recovered. They were allegedly trying to cross through the river from Abkhazia into Tbilisi controlled territory. According to Formula News they belong to one family.
According to Civil.ge, the State Security Service of Georgia said the residents of the ethnic Georgian majority Gali district crossed the Enguri river to avoid being detained by the occupation forces for crossing the boundary line on the ground.
“The mentioned fact represents a result of restrictions unlawfully imposed by the occupation regime over free movement and damaging practice of unlawful detentions,” stated the Georgian State Security Service. Despite the eased crossing rules in February 2021 for certain groups (see below) there is no full reopening in sight so far. The crossing of the boundary line has practically been closed for a year, which puts a high strain on the Georgian population in the Gali district. According to Georgian authorities this tragedy is a direct result of restrictions imposed by Abkhaz authorities and the Russian occupation forces preventing the local population to travel to Tbilisi controlled territory.
Georgia’s policy role
But Georgian citizens don’t agree. They say this tragedy can be attributed to Georgian measures: due to the covid19 pandemic, the Georgian authorities demand a 5 day quarantaine period and a PCR test for arrivals from the Abkhazian side. Many local residents do not have the time for that and thus try to avoid the regular crossing at the Enguri Bridge, leading to risky crossings of the river. And many detentions by Abkhazian and Russian forces for “illegally crossing the border”. According to the Abkhaz authorities 3.000 ethnic Georgian residents of the Gali district have been detained in the first three months of 2021 for (trying to) cross the boundary line in irregular way.
The Abkhaz Commissioner for Human Rights Asida Shakryl appealed on 2 March 2021 to Abhazia President Aslan Bzhania to reconsider the restricted passage regime on the Abkhaz-Georgian Administrative Boundary Line:
“The restrictions introduced in order to preserve the life and health of the population must be proportionate and adequate to the existing threat. Currently, in connection with a significant improvement in the epidemiological situation, many restrictive measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in both Abkhazia and Georgia have been relaxed. Nevertheless, due to the continuing regime of restricting the crossing of the Abkhaz-Georgian border, many residents of the Gal(i) region of Abkhazia find themselves limited in their rights, which cannot but be perceived by residents of the Georgian ethnicity in the Eastern regions of Abkhazia as discrimination”
The Human Rights Ombudsman also notes that the duration of the restricted regime has led to a major increase in “illegal crossings” by residents of the Gali district. About fout thousanmd of such cases have been developed. And as can be read below, it has led to various drownings (in the Enguri River).
On the 11th of February 2021 the Enguri Bridge crossing point was reopened in normal operation for all groups in the direction of Abkhazia. Initially limited groups can only travelling from Abkhazia into Tbilisi controlled territory. The crossing point has been operating under restrictive mode for nearly a year and was entirely closed for most of that period.
According to the head of the Abkhaz border service over 500 people used the “humanitarian corridor” at the Enguri Bridge crossing point between 3 and 10 December. The humanitarian corridor allows residents of Abkhazia to return from Georgia-proper. They need to undergo medical and sanitary control and must also submit a certificate issued by Georgian medical institutions that they do not have the coronavirus.
On 15 December a ГАИ / GAI (General Administration for Traffic Safety) traffic police checkpoint was opened at Kholodnaia-Rechka, about 10km from the Psou River customs checkpoint at the border of the Russian Federation. The checkpoint was opened to prevent the import of contraband products into the territory of Abkhazia, as well as the illegal import of equipment for cryptocurrency mining. Cryptocurrency mining is a major problem for the Abkhazian power netywork, causing shortages and disruptions due to a wildgrowth of farming and lack of law enforcement.
Abkhazia re-opened the Enguri Bridge crossing point with mainland Georgia on 19 October for pensioners and residents of the Gali region who have Georgian citizenship. They can freely cross the boundary line in both directions three days per week: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
This measure was taken by the Abkhaz authorities so that Georgian pensioners permanently residing in Abkhazia could receive pensions and various kinds of social benefits. This can only be done on Georgian territory.
A man died on 23 September after crossing the Enguri River from Abkhazia with his wife and children to return to Tbilisi-controlled territory. He had arrived in Otobaia a month before on his father’s death anniversary and could not go back to the Tbilisi-controlled territory due to the closure of the only crossing point, the Enguri Bridge.
While visiting Moscow, de facto President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania negotiated the terms to reopen the border checkpoint with Russia at Psou per 1 August, as Apsnypress reported on 31 July. Just days earlier Abkhaz de facto authorities extended restrictions until at least 4 August. Under the new regime, Russian visitors won’t be restricted in any sense, and won’t be required to show a certificate of being covid-19 free, despite a surge of cases in Abkhazia, tripling since 21 July.
Apsnypress: “As you know, representatives of Rospotrebnadzor and the Ministry of Health, who visited Abkhazia with a monitoring mission, gave a positive assessment of the epidemiological situation in Abkhazia. This, of course, played a role in a positive decision on the issue of opening the border. Details, mechanisms and conditions for the implementation of the adopted decision are still under discussion. Concrete conclusions will be made following the results of working consultations between the authorities of Abkhazia and Russia.
On 4 August however, Russian authorities acknowledged the Covid019 situation in Abkhazia is worsening, urging visiting citizens to wear masks and gloves. Most new coronavirus cases arrive are individuals who just arrived from Russia. Reopening the border to Russian tourists for summer is therefore a concern. This concern appeared justified on 8 August, when vacationeers arriving from Russia tested positive.
A “humanitarian corridor” was opened for the fourth time at the Enguri Bridge by Abkhazia de facto authorities from 5 to 9 August. It is a one way “corridor” however: holders of Abkhaz “passports” and residence permits are only allowed to return to the region after checking their medical conditions at the crossing point. The de facto authorities did not allow residents to leave the region to Tbilisi controlled territory.
Georgian authorities reported on 20 August 1000 people have entered Tbilisi controlled territory from the “occupied regions”. 316 people were transfered to hospitals for health related reasons.
On 26 August a 65 year old man was found dead in the Enguri River. He tried to cross the river to collect his pension in Tbilisi controlled territory. Due to the coronavirus crisis the Abkhaz side closed the crossing point, leaving people in dire need of their pension.
On 24 July three young Georgians were released at Enguri bridge. They were taken from the surroundings of Muzhava near the ABL on 6 June by Russian controlled forces, and put in detention (see below under June) .
In Georgian media it was reported on 10 July the Abkhazia de facto authorities will temporarily reopen the Enguri Bridge crossing point. Between 13-17 July residents can only pass from Tbilisi controlled area to Abkhazia, a one way passage, according to Radio Tavisupleba. The movement from Abkhazia to Zugdidi remains restricted. According to de facto Abkhaz authorities 1269 people used the opening period to return to Abkhazia.
During the first days of July a series of incidents around the Abkhazia ABL illustrated the Georgian community (in Gali district) is suffering from the systematic closure of the crossing points. This leads to desperate attempts to cross anyways.
On 3 July a 21 year old Georgian was kidnapped by Russian controlled forces on Tbilisi-controlled area close to Enguri Bridge and taken to Gali prison in Abkhazia on accusations of ‘illegal border crossing’. He was visiting relatives in Rikhe. The State Security Service of Georgia reported he was released on 6 July.
On 5 July three Georgian women went missing in the Gali district of Abkhazia. One of them just moved to Tagiloni in Abkhazia a week prior and planned to return to Georgian-controlled territory. She and the others were refused at the Enguri Bridge crossing point. A relative said: “We know she left early in the morning and had to cross the river as the Abkhazians did not let her go [via the bridge]. They say she drowned in the river, but we don’t have exact information yet.” According to relatives she ended up in quarantaine. The other two are unaccounted for.
And on 5 July late in the evening a middle aged man was shot in his leg by Russian controlled forces while he tried to cross the administrative boundary line from Abkhazia to Tbilisi controlled Ganmukhuri village. He was able to stay out of Abkhaz hands and was taken to Zugdidi hospital and later transported to Kutaisi hospital.
Long closure Enguri bridge
The systematic and long term closure of checkpoints during (but also prior to) the corona pandemic is a burden on the (ethnic) Georgian community in Abkhazia. They rely on services in and interaction with the Tbilisi controlled side of the Administrative Boundary Line: from education to health services but also collecting pensions and IDP benefits. Due to the long closure they have not been able to collect their money for many months. It is clear the restrictions on the free movement is putting pressure on the community to try to cross the boundary through other ways, risking drowning, arrest or even shot at (a rarity in recent years).
“Residents of Gali in occupied Abkhazia have not received IDP benefits and pensions for four months. The reason is that these people used to receive this money in Zugdidi or elsewhere on Georgia-controlled territory but now the borders are closed at the Enguri Bridge by the Sokhumi de-facto government amid the coronavirus. In Gali district we are dealing with a terrible humanitarian catastrophe. We must assume that [entering Georgia by crossing Enguri river] will continue in the future. If this situation is not improved, people who are in this hopeless situation will definitely continue to cross the Enguri River and try to enter Zugdidi. It is not impossible many could drown”
After just a week the de facto government of Abkhazia closed the only crossing point with the rest of Georgia again on 2 June 2020. It temporarily opened on 26 May to allow individuals back into the region who had undergone treatment in Tbilisi controlled territory. According to the Abkhaz 532 people have returned to the region since 26 May.
The region originally closed the Enguri crossing point with the rest of Georgia in March to ‘prevent the spread of the coronavirus.’ However, it did not close the region to Russian citizens at that time. Most of the coronavirus cases which have been reported in Abkhazia were connected with Russia.
On 6 June 2020 three Georgian citizens were reportedly abducted from the surroundings of Muzhava, which is in Tbilisi controlled territory close to ABL of Abkhazia. They live near the ABL. On 9 June they were still in custody, Radio Tavisupleba reported. Sputnik Abkhazia reported on 9 June the men (born 1987, ’90 and ’92) were arrested for “illegally crossing the border”, facing 2-5 years prison. Caucasian Knot reported on 16 June criminal charges are pressed. On 24 July they were released at Enguri bridge.
Between 22 and 24 June 2020 the Abkhaz de facto authorities temporarily opened the crossing point at Enguri Bridge, during daytime hours between 9am and 7pm. A “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate Abkhazia residents to return to their home from Tbilisi controlled territory. People had to undergo medical and sanitary control while entering the Abkhazia. Reportedly 102 people used the opportunity in the first few hours of reopening. A total of 907 people, including 200 children have used the opportunity to travel (back) to Abkhazia, de facto authorities said.
“Starting today, Abkhaz authorities have allowed passage to resume through Enguri bridge crossing point for Abkhaz passport holders who travelled to Georgia proper to receive medical treatment”, Civil.ge reported on 26 May 2020 based on local Abkhaz reports. Around a 100 residents from Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) travelled to Georgia proper since the covid-19 pandemic seeking medical treatment. The next day 51 people passed the Enguri crossing. These were people who were forced to stay in Tbilisi controlled territory due to the closure of the crossing point, and not those who were seeking medical treatment, the Abkhaz de facto authorities stated.
On 8 April 2020 the border checkpoint with Russia at the Psou River, will be closed starting 20 April for “all categories of citizens”. The decision was made after Abkhazia’s first two COVID-19 infections were detected, originating from Russia. This also led to a curfew in Gagra. On 9 April Russian military forces started to build a field hospital at the Russian military base, with a capacity of 200 patients. On 21 April the state of emergency and curfew were lifted. They were in place since 28 March. The entry ban to the Georgian populated Gali district was also lifted, as well as in Gagra. The official reason was “the situation in the de facto republic is under control”. However, in mid-May, the total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 17, with two recovered and one deceased. All cases are linked to returnees from Russia or its military forces.
De facto officials of Abkhazia Russian have announced the Enguri Bridge checkpoint will close at 8 p.m. on March 14, due to the COVID-19 “outbreak in Georgia”. This applies for all people, including Russian citizens, with the exception of employees of the Ingur Hydropower station. At the end of the month a state of emergency was introduced.
From 27 February 2020 Abkhazia barred entry ‘to all foreigners except Russians’ until 7 April. It imposed restrictions on the Enguri Bridge a day earlier, which is the only crossing point connecting the region with the rest of Georgia. Georgia reported its first COVID-19 case on the 26th of February.
On 20 February residents of Abkhazia region brought the 53-year-old deceased Gocha Tupuria to the Otobaia-Orsantia bridge (closed checkpoint) for his relatives standing on the other side of the bridge to mourn. They were deprived of the right to enter Abkhazia, Radio Atinati reported. Abkhaz officials closed the Khurcha-Nabakevi and Otobaia-Orsantia checkpoints in March 2017.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abkhaz de facto authorities restricted the issuance of travel permits to foreign travellers as of 27 January. This applied to both entrance from the Russian Psou checkpoint as well as from Georgian controlled territory at Enguri bridge.
Abkhazia announced on 2 October 2019 the checkpoint at Enguri Bridge with the rest of Georgia has been reopened. It was closed since June 2019. The EUMM recorded 2580 daily crossings in the first week of reopening.
June – July 2019
Due to ongoing protests in Tbilisi since 20 June the de facto leadership of Abkhazia announced on 27 June a “temporary closure” of the crossing points. The protests in Tbilisi erupted after a visiting Russian MP sat in the Speaker chair of Georgia’s Parliament.
The Abkhaz security service declared: “There are mass protest rallies of a provocative character underway in Georgia, which affect the statehood of the Republic of Abkhazia”. Also, “the entry of foreign citizens from the territory of Georgia, as well as the departure of citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia to the territory of Georgia” will be restricted for an undefined period of time. The issue was immediately raised at the Geneva International Discussions on on 2 and 3 July 2019.
The Georgian State Security said the temporary closure of the boundary between the Abkhazia region and the rest of Georgia is an illegal restriction of the right of movement of locals. It isolates them and complicates their livelihoods. Some 30.000 (ethnic) Georgians live in the Abkhaz Gali district, with many being dependent on cross-boundary interaction.
Among the directly affected are Georgian students from Abkhazia enrolling in universities in mainland Georgia who had to take exams. Deputy Education Minister Irina Abuladze:
“Some university entrants could not cross Enguri Bridge. We are expecting that the situation may improve at any time. A certain number of entrants faced some problems due to the closing of the Enguri so-called crossing-point. We will do our best to ensure they receive a higher education”
Upon mediation this limitation was partially resolved and “students, individuals who are in need of medical assistance and pensioners are allowed to leave the region,” Georgian Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said. Mid-July 43 students from the Gali district managed to join the Summer School classes:
“Today’s meeting with students is very important and emotional. The students are doing their utmost to receive a better education. In crossing the so-called border they are sending a very loud message – ‘we will not be a generation beyond the barbed-wire-fences, we are the children of a united Georgia and with our education we will do our best to restore trust and state integrity,” Deputy Reconciliation Minister Lia Gigauri said.
Ultimately the Georgian government decided to enroll all 190 students from Abkhazia in university wavering their enrollment exams.
Over the holiday season of 2018 a minor outbreak of the H1N1 “Swine flu” took place in Georgia. This didn’t expand into an epidemic, according to the norms of the Georgian Center of Disease Control. Yet, the two de-facto occupied regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia decided to close their so-called border with the rest of Georgia to “avoid the spread of H1NI”.
Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili criticised the decision essentially saying this is a politicized action restricting the freedom of movement of people who are dependent on the open boundary. She said there is no epidemic, the flu goes around in other countries as well (such as Russia) while no access restrictions apply to those people.
Despite international pressure from the EUMM and others the crossing points were not reopened in January. Abkhazia reopened the crossing points at Enguri Bridge and Saberio after 26 days on 6 February 2019.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned the opening of a customs point in the region of Abkhazia. A specialized customs post was opened in Sokhumi. The Foreign Ministry believes that in doing so, the Russian Federation aims at integrating Abkhazia within its customs sphere. According to the ministry, this is yet another illegal step towards the factual annexation of the region. The OSCE condemned the move.
Also, only one crossing point from Abkhazia into Tbilisi controlled Georgia remains open: the Enguri bridge near Zugdidi. The Saberio crossing point remains closed, after two others ones were also closed in 2017.
De-facto Abkhazian officials closed two crossing-points along the administrative boundary line separating Georgia’s breakaway, Russian-backed Abkhazia region from the rest of the country. The two closed crossing points are in the western section: Nabakevi-Khurcha (Bataiguara) and Otobaia-Orsantia (Bgoura), which will affect locals in both breakaway Abkhazia and Georgia who regularly cross the so-called border. This was announced in late 2016. Two other checkpoints were closed in that year.
The European Union Monitoring Mission made a video report about this closure:
Abkhaz President Khajimba announced in October 2014, shortly after being elected, he would close five crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled territory. In April 2016 the Abkhaz authorities confirmed they would only leave two crossing points open, the Enguri bridge and an unspecified one in lower Gali, closing the others.
The first to close in April 2016 was Tagiloni/Taglan – Shamgona, an improvised footbridge across the Enguri river on the partially destroyed railway bridge, the defunct Sukhumi – Zugdidi railway line. Immediately after the closure the footbridge was destroyed by the Russians as well their checkpoint on the river bank.
In August 2016 the Pakhulani–Lekukhona (Alakumkhara) crossing point followed.