U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Azerbaijan
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 January 1999|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Azerbaijan , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8ce14.html [accessed 8 October 2015]|
At the end of 1998, Azerbaijan hosted more than 235,000 refugees in need of protection. These included about 180,000 ethnic Azeri refugees from Armenia, 10,000 ethnic Azeri refugees from Georgia, 45,000 Meskhetian Turks who fled Uzbekistan in 1989, and more than 250 refugees or asylum seekers registered with UNHCR. In addition, some 576,000 Azeris remained displaced within the country, according to Azerbaijan's State Committee for Statistics.
Although Azerbaijan has signed the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol, it has no status determination procedure for asylum seekers originating from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Consequently, UNHCR conducts status determination procedures for non CIS asylum seekers. During the year, asylum seekers in 276 cases, mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, applied for asylum in Azerbaijan. UNHCR granted refugee status to 12 individuals – two Afghans, seven Iranians, two Iraqis, and one Palestinian – and rejected individuals representing 23 cases in 1998.
During 1998, Azerbaijan's parliament prepared a draft refugee law that would create a legal basis for receiving asylum seekers and refugees from outside the CIS. Although the law passed its first reading, the parliament later reportedly revised it to incorporate social and economic rights for internally displaced persons. Because the law remained in draft form at year's end, the government did not take steps to create a refugee status determination procedure.
On September 30, the parliament adopted a Law on Citizenship that will allow ethnic Azeri refugees and formerly deported Meskhetian Turks to obtain citizenship. Under Article 5 of the law, refugees living in Azerbaijan from January 1992 to January 1998 will be eligible for citizenship. Once implemented, the law will allow ethnic Azeri refugees who fled Armenia when fighting over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh erupted in 1988 and some 45,000 formerly deported Meskhetian Turks forced out of Uzbekistan in 1989 to naturalize. On October 6, Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev signed a decree to implement the law. No refugees had attained citizenship under the law at year's end, however.
Since a May 1994 cease-fire ended much of the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh, about 69,500 displaced Azeris have returned to regions bordering ethnic Armenian-controlled areas, mostly to the Fizuli and Agdam regions. Throughout 1998, Armenia controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied six surrounding provinces that make up some 20 percent of Azerbaijan. The continuing occupation prevented the vast majority of the displaced population – some 575,000 persons – from returning to their homes.
In hopes of someday regaining its occupied territories, Azerbaijan's government continued promoting "sustainable return" as the preferred durable solution for the displaced and responded sluggishly to efforts to integrate them locally. Policies founded on such hopes kept the displaced – some of whom had been displaced for almost a decade – from finding employment and permanent housing in many host regions.
At year's end, almost 75 percent of displaced Azeris continued living in temporary accommodations. Almost 30 percent lived in public buildings such as schools, kindergartens, and hospitals. Another 16 percent resided in makeshift dwellings, such as tents and prefabricated buildings. Others were living in abandoned railroad cars (7 percent), partially constructed buildings (7 percent), subterranean earthen dugouts (6 percent), or in illegally occupied apartments (6 percent).
About 50 percent of displaced Azeris lived in urban centers such as Gyandja, Ali-Bayramli, Sumgait, Mingechevir, and Baku – which hosted almost 25 percent of the displaced population. Most lived in abject poverty. Their circumstances burdened Azerbaijan's already overtaxed social services, education, and health care systems, and hampered economic development in areas struggling to accommodate them.
Despite federal resistance to local integration, Azerbaijan's regional governments and UNHCR implemented projects to foster local resettlement for the displaced and to strengthen public service delivery in host regions. Most of the projects focused on housing, education, and income-generation, according to UNHCR. The Azerbaijan Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency – a federal agency established in 1997 to promote sustainable returns – provided additional support to displaced families during the year.
The government of Azerbaijan worked with UNHCR to promote voluntary returns to war-torn areas bordering Armenian-occupied territories, mostly to Fizuli, Agdam, and Terter. In May, UNHCR launched an appeal for $12 million to rehabilitate housing and infrastructure in these regions. UNHCR said the first installment of funds would benefit more than 2,000 households through the Repatriate Home Rehabilitation program, which helped 115 families rebuild their war-torn homes in 1998.
On July 6, Azerbaijan's State Committee for Refugees announced plans to create a state commission to implement a strategy for returning displaced persons to their home regions "once a settlement [with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh] is reached."
Negotiations for resolving the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that might enable displaced persons to return to their home areas made little progress in 1998. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia continued to claim historic ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Nagorno-Karabakh upheld its declared – yet unrecognized – independence.
In September 1997, the six-nation Minsk group proposed a "phased approach" plan requiring Armenia to withdraw from occupied territories of Azerbaijan, followed by discussions on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although Azerbaijan reportedly supported the plan, ethnic Armenian leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh rejected it outright. Then-Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian reportedly supported the plan "with reservations." This changed, however, when Nagorno-Karabakh leader Robert Kocharian replaced Ter-Petrosian as president of Armenia in February 1998.
Throughout 1998, the Minsk group centered negotiations on a new proposal that would make Nagorno-Karabakh an ill-defined "common state." In October – following elections marred by vote-counting irregularities and other violations of Azerbaijan's election law – Heydar Aliyev was reelected president of Azerbaijan. President Aliyev and Armenian President Kocharian met and discussed Nagorno-Karabakh during the year, but little had come of their negotiations, or of the Minsk proposal, by year's end.
During the year, U.S. officials interested in building an East-West oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey led efforts to repeal Section 907 of U.S. Freedom Support Act – the congressional ban on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.
In September, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee passed a measure to repeal Section 907. The full House, however, reversed the decision. In October, the United States lifted portions of the ban that inhibited the construction of the oil pipeline but upheld restrictions on military and economic aid to Azerbaijan. Although Section 907 did not apply to humanitarian aid to NGOs, aid organizations said the ban prevented local NGOs from providing a full range of humanitarian services to Azerbaijan's refugees and displaced persons, especially health care, which is completely state-run.