U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Azerbaijan
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Azerbaijan , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8d2c.html [accessed 13 March 2014]|
At the end of 1999, as many as 222,000 refugees were living in Azerbaijan. These included about 188,400 ethnic Azeri refugees who left Armenia between 1988 and 1991 when fighting erupted over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, 33,200 "formerly deported" Meskhetian Turks (deported en masse from Georgia to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1940s) who fled ethnic violence in the Ferghana Valley region of Uzbekistan in 1988, some 57 persons granted refugee status during the year, and 348 asylum seekers from outside the former Soviet Union whose cases were pending at year's end.
In addition, more than 568,000 persons from western regions of Azerbaijan under Armenian occupation since 1993, including 42,072 from Nagorno-Karabakh, remained displaced within the country. Most were displaced from regions just outside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Fizuli (133,725 persons), Agdam (128,584), Lachin (63,007), Kelbadjar (59,274), Jabrayil (58,834), Gubadli (31,276), Zangilan (34,797), Terter (5,171), and Agjabedi (3,358). The overwhelming majority are ethnic Azeris. However, about 4,000 Kurds from the Lachin and Kelbadjar regions and several hundred ethnic Russians also live among the displaced.
Although Azerbaijan signed the UN Refugee Convention in 1993, the government did not adopt a national refugee law to implement the Convention until 1999. Instead, Azerbaijan has reserved refugee status almost exclusively for ethnic Azeris from former Soviet countries and certain Meskhetian Turks, to whom it grants refugee status on a prima facie basis. Because the government lacks a refugee status determination procedure, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducts status determinations for refugees from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
On April 6, Azerbaijan's parliament passed a law "On the Status of Refugees and Displaced Persons" that, among other things, creates a legal basis for receiving asylum seekers and refugees from outside the CIS. At year's end, however, the government had not begun examining non-CIS claims, so UNHCR continued conducting status determinations.
Asylum seekers in 219 cases applied for asylum in Azerbaijan in 1999, including 78 Afghans, 57 ethnic Chechens from the war-torn republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation, 56 Iranians, and 17 Iraqis. UNHCR granted refugee status in 23 cases and rejected 81 cases in 1999. Another 216 Afghan asylum seekers and 132 others awaited decisions on pending claims at year's end.
During 1999, UNHCR and the Council of Europe organized workshops to help authorities implement a 1998 citizenship law that, once implemented, will allow many ethnic Azeri refugees and formerly deported Meskhetian Turks to obtain citizenship.
At year's end, UNHCR wrote, "There is still no clear procedure for implementing the law on citizenship. UNHCR [has learned] of cases of foreigners and refugees fulfilling criteria for citizenship who have been refused Azerbaijani citizenship." Although UNHCR believed that most Azeri refugees and Meskhetian Turks would be eligible for citizenship, the government did not provide statistics on the number of refugees who naturalized in 1999 and had not fully implemented the law at year's end.
Since a 1994 cease-fire ended much of the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, about 70,000 displaced Azeris have returned to regions bordering ethnic Armenian-controlled areas, mostly to the Fizuli and Agdam regions. Because Armenia continues to occupy Nagorno-Karabakh and six surrounding provinces that make up about 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, however, the vast majority of the displaced cannot return to their home regions.
More than 90 percent of the 568,989 displaced persons who registered with Azerbaijan's State Committee on Statistics still lived in "temporary" accommodations at year's end. Almost 30 percent lived in public buildings such as schools, kindergartens, and hostels. Another 16 percent resided in makeshift dwellings, such as tents and prefabricated buildings. Others lived in abandoned railroad cars (about 7 percent), partially constructed buildings (7 percent), subterranean earthen dugouts (6 percent), or in illegally occupied apartments (6 percent). Not only were the displaced unable to find permanent housing; many also experienced difficulty securing gainful employment, health care, and education, which were generally reserved for citizens.
Dwindling international aid, along with Azerbaijan's strained economy, further eroded displaced communities' ability to cope with their prevailing social and economic predicament during the year. Unable to secure even subsistence-level employment, many displaced families relied on meager monthly government subsidies equivalent to $4.50 for bread and $2.50 per child for "child support." In 1999, more than 13 percent of the displaced were children under age five; another 15 percent were more than 55 years old.
Having lived in difficult conditions for several years, most displaced children and adults were less healthy, less educated, and less employable than citizens. Some "71 percent of the Azeri-Armenia war-affected population live in precariousness," a 1999 report issued jointly by Azerbaijan's Committee on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons and the International Commission on International Humanitarian Assistance said. Citing a "lack of opportunities," the report said, "only 8 percent of the [displaced] have completed a high[er] education program...and only 38 percent have access to regular income."
In February, Azerbaijan signed an agreement with UNHCR, the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank designed to "promote self reliance and local settlement [for the displaced] without prejudice to...eventual return when conditions allow." The agreement permits the agencies, in conjunction with the government, to set up income-generation projects, shelter assistance, job training, and social services to help displaced persons integrate locally and assist those trying to return to areas bordering the occupied territories to rebuild their war-damaged homes. During the year, programs in Sabirabad, Saatli, Bilasuvar, and Fizuli assisted about 10,000 displaced persons with building supplies, job training, small-scale income generation projects, health care, and other support services.
Humanitarian aid to the displaced declined in 1999, however, and UNHCR planned gradually to hand over these projects to the government, national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the UNDP. On September 9, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata met with President Heydar Aliyev to discuss UNHCR's dwindling annual appeal for Azerbaijan, which decreased 61 percent from $12 million for 1999 to $4.7 million for 2000. In 1999, Ogata said, donor countries allocated $8 million of UNHCR's $12 million appeal for Azerbaijan. Ogata reportedly urged Aliyev to seek political solutions to help Azerbaijan's refugees and displaced persons, noting that international aid would not continue indefinitely.
Despite ongoing international mediation by the six-nation Minsk group and several face-to-face meetings between President Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian, a political settlement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that might enable displaced persons to return to their home areas remained elusive in 1999 (see Armenia).
During the year, U.S. parties interested in building an East-West oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey continued to push for the United States to repeal Section 907 of U.S. Freedom Support Act the congressional ban on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan. The previous year, the United States lifted portions of the ban that inhibited the construction of the oil pipeline. The United States upheld restrictions on military and economic aid to Azerbaijan, however, which remained intact throughout 1999.
Although Section 907 does not directly restrict humanitarian aid to NGOs, some aid organizations said the ban prevents local NGOs from providing a full range of humanitarian services to Azerbaijan's refugees and displaced persons.