Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2014, 14:56 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Azerbaijan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Azerbaijan , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e15e0.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, more than 3,600 refugees were living in Azerbaijan. These included 287 persons granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) during the year and 3,369 asylum seekers – mostly ethnic Chechens (2,462) from the war-torn republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation and Afghans (843) – whose cases were pending with UNHCR at year's end.

In addition, 248,783 persons were living in refugee-like circumstances in Azerbaijan. These included 196,847 ethnic Azeris – most of whom fled Armenia between 1988 and 1991 when fighting erupted over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – and 51,649 "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.

Although these 248,783 persons are registered with the government as refugees, they have largely integrated into Azerbaijan, are eligible for citizenship, and face no threat of forced repatriation or expulsion from Azerbaijan. However, many still live in "temporary" accommodations and struggle to subsist. In addition, the government could not provide statistics on the number who have naturalized. Therefore, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) no longer considers them to be refugees in need of protection but rather persons in refugee-like circumstances.

In 2000, more than 575,000 people were still internally displaced from western regions of Azerbaijan under Armenian occupation since 1993, including about 48,000 from Nagorno-Karabakh. Most were displaced from regions just outside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Fizuli (135,570 persons), Agdam (130,739), Lachin (63,159), Kelbadjar (60,418), Jabrayil (59,683), Gubadli (31,359), Zangilan (34,106), Shousa (23,317), Khojavand (8,488), and Khojali (8,159). 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.

Asylum

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, the government has reserved refugee status almost exclusively for ethnic Azeris from former Soviet countries and formerly deported Meskhetian Turks to whom it granted refugee status on a prima facie basis.

In April 1999, Azerbaijan's Parliament passed a law "On the Status of Refugees and Displaced Persons" that created a legal basis for receiving asylum seekers and refugees from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On November 13, 2000, President Heydar Aliyev approved a decree – drafted in cooperation with UNHCR – to enable the government to begin conducting refugee status determinations. At year's end, however, the government had not begun examining individual asylum claims, so UNHCR continued conducting status determinations.

Asylum seekers in 1,461 cases (3,528 persons) – mostly Chechens from the Russian Federation and Afghans – applied for asylum in Azerbaijan in 2000, up more than 560 percent from the 219 applications filed in 1999. UNHCR granted refugee status to 287 persons – including 172 Afghans, 64 ethnic Chechens, 25 Iranians, and 19 Iraqis. UNHCR rejected 82 asylum seekers in 2000 – including 46 Iranians and 24 Afghans. Another 3,369 asylum seekers awaited decisions on pending claims at year's end.

Although 2,470 Chechens applied for asylum during the year, more Chechen refugees are believed to be living in Azerbaijan. The majority arrived in late 1999, soon after the renewed Russian offensive that re-ignited war in the Chechen republic. Throughout 2000, Russia tightly controlled Chechens' movement out of the Russian Federation, limiting the number who could make their way to Azerbaijan and other countries.

Azerbaijan expressed reluctance to host Chechen refugees openly, not wanting to strain its delicate relationship with Russia. Consequently, little is written in the media about Chechens in Azerbaijan, who maintain a low profile. Although Azerbaijan generally does not refoule Chechen refugees (return them involuntary to Russia) nor detain them for living in the country without proper documents, the government denies them resident permits (propiskas) and most other rights and services accorded to government-registered Meskhetian and Azeri refugees, legal residents, and citizens. As a result, Chechens in Azerbaijan reportedly have almost no access to social services or public health care, are not allowed to work, and cannot send their children to Azeri schools.

Resettlement

In FY 2000, U.S. government officials began conducting circuit rides to Baku to enable UNHCR to refer refugees who lack adequate protection in Azerbaijan for resettlement to the United States. During the year, UNHCR referred 105 cases (197 persons) for U.S. resettlement – including 99 Afghan cases, 3 from Iran, 2 from Iraq, and 1 from Chechnya. By year's end, persons in 42 of those cases had arrived in the United States.

Citizenship

Throughout the year, UNHCR continued efforts to help the authorities implement a 1998 citizenship law that enables ethnic Azeris who fled or were expelled from Armenia and formerly deported Meskhetian Turks to obtain citizenship. According to UNHCR, most eligible Azeris and Meskhetians were believed to have naturalized or to be in the process of naturalizing by year's end. However, the government did not provide statistics on the number of persons who naturalized in 2000.

Mid-year, UNHCR reported, "Ethnic Azeri refugees have integrated well into the urban areas of Azerbaijan (mainly Baku and Sumgait) and generally no longer receive assistance from UNHCR."

However, an unknown number of Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan remained without citizenship at year's end because they had failed to register with the government. It appeared that some did not register for naturalization in order to avoid military service in Azerbaijan. To register for citizenship, adult men must confirm that they have completed military service or have canceled their registration with the military in their former country, in this case, the Uzbek Minister of Defense. Men who have not completed a military service requirement elsewhere are required to do so in Azerbaijan. After age 29, however, they become exempt from the military service requirement.

Many Meskhetians from Uzbekistan reportedly wait until age 29 before registering with the government. Because Azerbaijan considers such evasion a criminal offense, those who do so are not granted citizenship. As a result, an unknown number of Meskhetians remained without citizenship at year's end and risked becoming stateless.

Internal Displacement

Since a 1994 cease-fire ended much of the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, about 88,500 displaced Azeris have returned to regions bordering ethnic Armenian-controlled areas, mostly to the Fizuli and Agdam regions. Of these, about 18,000 returned to Fizuli and 500 to Agdam during the year. Because Armenian forces continue to control Nagorno-Karabakh and six surrounding provinces that make up about 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, the vast majority of the displaced cannot return to their home regions.

More than half of the 575,000 displaced persons registered with Azerbaijan's State Committee on Statistics still lived in "temporary" accommodations at year's end. About 54 percent lived in urban areas, and 46 percent lived in rural areas. Many of the displaced continue to inhabit public buildings such as schools, kindergartens, and hostels; live in abandoned railroad cars or partially constructed buildings; or stay in large camp-like settlements. At the end of 2000, about 51,000 displaced Azeris lived in Azerbaijan's twelve main displaced persons' camps.

In May 1999, the government passed a law on the "social protection of forcibly displaced persons and persons equated to them" which – on paper – grants refugees, internally displaced persons, and formerly deported Meskhetian Turks free health care, primary and secondary education, and many social services. However, in practice, refugees and displaced persons reported having to pay for many of the services that were supposed to be free to them under the law. Despite the law's inconsistent implementation, groups working on behalf of Azerbaijan's large uprooted population said it represents a major step toward helping the displaced to integrate locally.

Throughout the year, displaced communities struggled to cope with their continued displacement, often facing severe economic hardship. Unemployment among the displaced continued to be a problem. Unable to secure even subsistence-level employment, many displaced families relied on meager monthly government subsidies equivalent to $5.00 per family and $2.50 per child.

In 1999 and 2000, UNHCR gradually handed over its projects, which have increasingly focused on development assistance, to the government, national nongovernmental organizations, the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the U.S. Agency for International Development. UNHCR's annual appeal for Azerbaijan decreased 61 percent, from $12 million for 1999 to $4.7 million for 2000.

In February 1999, Azerbaijan signed an agreement with UNHCR, 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 enabled 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, the Azerbaijan Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency and the International Federation of the Red Crescent Society rehabilitated 486 houses for returnees in war-damaged areas. However, many returnees could not earn a living in the war-damaged areas and reportedly left in search of work after rebuilding their homes. According to UNHCR, the "soft-sector" projects in reconstructed cities such as income-generation and education programs "need to catch up with the hard-sector programs," such as home reconstruction, irrigation, and electricity, before returnees will truly be able to stay permanently.

To improve the durability of returns and local integration, the government set up a fund for the development of internally displaced persons based on a $10 million loan agreement with the World Bank. By year's end, the government had approved several projects to provide sustainable development assistance to the displaced. UNHCR remained active in many of the development projects, despite having scaled back its humanitarian assistance programs.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Ongoing international mediation by the six-country Minsk group and several face-to-face meetings between President Aliyev and President Robert Kocharian of Armenia did not lead to a political settlement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh during the year. Consequently, the vast majority of displaced Azeris were unable to return to their home areas.

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