Racial Discrimination in Georgia
Alleged Discrimination towards Citizens of Nigeria by the Bank of Georgia
On July 28th, Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) held a press-conference concerning racial discrimination in Georgia. Representatives of TDI and citizens of Nigeria talked about the alleged facts of discrimination from the side of the Bank of Georgia and other instances of oppression on the ground of racial belonging.
TDI studies cases of racial discrimination and provides legal assistance to people who are treated unequally and consider themselves as victims of discrimination.
During TDI’s work it was revealed, that reportedly, mostly citizens of Asian and African countries, including students, experience racial discrimination. Citizens of different countries in a number of instances referred to TDI, speaking about systemic problems faced by them in their everyday lives at public and private institutions, that according to them are caused by their racial affiliation.
TDI’s research in racial groups identified problems of systematic manner and among them, alleged instances of discrimination of Nigerian citizens by commercial banks.
In April, 2016, citizen of Nigeria, Solomon Adebayo Okeleye addressed TDI concerning the alleged discrimination against him.
After interviewing Mr. Okeleye and other students, it was revealed that JSC Bank of Georgia (hereafter, the bank) restricts the rights of Nigerian citizens living in Georgia to use so called ‘student cards’ and open their bank accounts. As a result, Nigerian citizens are not able to use bank accounts for money transactions, manage their financial resources, use public transportation and hence, their rights guaranteed by law are violated/restricted.
The Bank of Georgia exclusively issues the card that can be used for transportation and bank services. No other administrative body or legal entity of private law can issue an analogous card. According to the resolution of Tbilisi City Assembly, students of higher educational institutions in Tbilisi have special allowance for transportation fees. Consequently, students who do not have student cards linked to their bank accounts are not able to use benefits provided for them by the law.
In February, Mr. Okeleye attempted to open an account at JSC Bank of Georgia for several times, however, in order to open an account, the Bank requested from him to convey a recommendation from US, Australian, Canadian or EU banks. Fulfillment of such request was impossible for Mr. Okeleye as far as he did not have any connections with the banks of above mentioned countries.
TDI began to study an alleged discrimination fact immediately. TDI addressed the Public Defender of Georgia and the National Bank of Georgia and provided information about factual and legal circumstances of the case. The National Bank of Georgia responded that after communication with TDI, they gave recommendation to JSC Bank of Georgia to eliminate discriminatory approach and to solve the problem strategically.
After TDI’s involvement, the Bank of Georgia addressed TDI in May and informed the organization that Mr. Okeleye and other ten Nigerians could receive student cards. However, as it turned out, the Bank allowed them to open accounts only in national currency. Therefore, the problem was solved not strategically, but only for those particular individuals whose interests were protected by TDI. In addition, opening and using bank accounts in other currencies is still impossible for citizens of Nigeria.
TDI addressed the bank of Georgia and asked to provide explanation for the ground of unequal treatment and information concerning the necessary measures meant to be undertaken in order to solve and prevent the existing problems.
On May 18th, 2016, the Bank of Georgia officially informed TDI that Nigerian citizens are considered as a high risk clients, since Nigerian students often do not use student cards for transportation fees. According to the Bank of Georgia, there were cases when Nigerian citizens were arrested for smuggling and selling illegal drugs in Georgia. Therefore, for opening the account, the bank uses intensified client identification control and requires to present recommendation letters from the US., Australian, Canadian or European commercial banks. In cases of the absence of such documents, the bank refuses to open the account. According to the Bank, considering the existing circumstances, they are developing a new product that would allow foreign students to use student cards only for public transportation services.
Therefore, according to the aforementioned, the Bank’s mandatory request to bring recommendation from US, Canadian, Australian or European commercial banks in order to open an account, is associated with alleged discriminatory motive against the Nigerian citizens. It is totally unacceptable that alleged criminal act committed by some person be extended to people who belong to the same ethnic/national group. Despite bank’s obligation to evaluate risks with its clients, discrimination on the ground of citizenship and/or nationality is unjustified and violates the rights of particular groups.
TDI considers that such a practice of the Bank does not meet requirements of human right standards used by the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court of Georgia.
On July 21th, 2016 TDI addressed the Public Defender with the request to continue monitoring the case and to use all available legal mechanisms to eliminate discrimination and recover equality violated by the actions of the Bank, as well as in the frame of its capacity, to address the Bank with a relevant recommendation.
TDI calls JSC the Bank of Georgia to take effective measures to solve the problem of the alleged discrimination of Nigerian citizens in Georgia. Meanwhile, TDI will pursue monitoring the process and protecting the interests of its beneficiaries, and for this purpose, will use all available legal mechanisms.
Except the particular problems, during TDI’s work on racial issues, it was revealed that the state policy towards citizens of Asian and African countries is discriminatory, which is sometimes expressed in unjustified refusals to grant residence permits. The relevant state institutions often reject to issue permits to citizens of Asian and African countries with the argument that they are considered as threats to national interests. TDI is currently defending such person’s interests at court.
In such cases, formal reason for withholding documents are usually expected to be illegal and are based on conclusion/recommendation of law enforcement agencies, without any investigation of legal and factual circumstances.
In general, problems concerning the presence of foreign citizens in Georgia and the residence permit are related to legislative changes made in past several years. It caused difficulties in terms of living, studying and working in Georgia for many foreign citizens.
Another problem is inefficient and inadequate response of law enforcement agencies upon the cases of verbal or physical abuse, damage of property, robbery and other facts allegedly committed on racial grounds. Racial discrimination is also common at educational institutions, public transport and public spaces.
It should be mentioned that existing racist attitudes and stereotypes are also encouraged by xenophobic and discriminatory rhetoric and statements made by high-ranking officials. Such expression contributes to legitimizing intolerance and hatred, its popularization and circulation.
TDI’s legal aid and strategic litigation is a part of the project Combatting Religious, Ethnic and Racial Discrimination in Georgia, implemented in the framework of East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) project Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia (PROLoG) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Photo credit: Netgazeti