Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Azerbaijan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Azerbaijan , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc495e.html [accessed 23 August 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 2002, more than 576,000 people remained internally displaced from the western regions of Azerbaijan that have been under Armenian occupation since 1993. According to the government, about 11,400 refugees and asylum seekers – including about 10,000 from the republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation and 1,200 from Afghanistan – were living in the country at year's end. During the year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered about 1,800 asylum seekers in Azerbaijan, most of whom were Chechens.

In addition, about 270,000 persons were living in refugee-like circumstances in Azerbaijan in 2002. These included about 220,000 ethnic Azeris from Armenia and 50,000 Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan. During 2002, nearly 4,900 persons from Azerbaijan applied for asylum in other European countries, up about 29 percent from the previous year.

Internal Displacement

Since a 1994 cease-fire ended much of the fighting in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, about 70,000 displaced Azeris have returned to regions bordering ethnic Armenian-controlled areas, mostly to the Fizuli and Agdam regions, according to the government. Because Armenian forces continue to control Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding provinces that make up about 16 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, the majority of the displaced cannot return to their home regions.

Those who remained displaced in 2002 included about 40,000 persons from Nagorno-Karabakh and more than 530,000 from regions just outside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Agdam (127,000), Fizuli (126,000), Lachin (68,000), and Kelbajar (61,000). The overwhelming majority are ethnic Azeris. However, about 4,000 Kurds, from the Lachin and Kelbajar regions, and several hundred ethnic Russians also live among the displaced.

Although most of the displaced persons originated from rural areas, about 55 percent settled in urban areas after being displaced, mostly in Sumgait and the capital, Baku. More than half of the displaced persons still lived in temporary shelter at year's end, such as public buildings (81,000 persons), hostels (80,000), schools and day-care centers (42,000), abandoned railroad cars (5,000), partially constructed buildings (5,000), sanatoriums (26,000), camp settlements (41,000), and makeshift roadside settlements (16,000). The more fortunate lived with relatives or host families (121,000 persons), in houses built by humanitarian agencies (36,000), or houses built by the State Committee for Refugees (10,000). Another 24,000 were living in apartments that they occupied illegally.

Throughout the year, the government restricted the movement and residence of displaced people by requiring the displaced to seek approval from local officials before changing their residences and to register their locations with the authorities in a manner similar to the Soviet-era propiska system. This practice conflicts with Azerbaijan's Constitution, which provides for freedom of movement, according to the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

In January 2002, Azerbaijan authorities began enforcing a presidential decree – signed in 2001 – that formally bars refugees and displaced persons from health care, primary and secondary education, and public assistance on a par with citizens. Few among the displaced had jobs or access to farmland, and the additional burden of paying for medical care and schooling exacerbated their severe economic hardship.

Throughout the year, the government depended largely on about $45 million in international assistance to care for the displaced and refugee-like populations. However, international humanitarian funding for Azerbaijan has declined sharply, from about $615 million in 1992. To help offset this loss, the government allocated the equivalent of about $39 million (189 billion manats) from the country's oil fund. Of this, the government divided up a large portion into monthly allotments to pay for food and fuel for the displaced. Individual families received the equivalent of about $5 (25,000 manats) per family member for food. Persons living in camps where international assistance had ceased also received sugar, rice, sunflower oil, and fuel from the government.

The government allocated another portion of the oil-fund money to building permanent housing for thousands of displaced and refugee-like persons still living in tent camps. On May 13, President Heydar Aliyev issued a decree authorizing the construction of several settlements in the Bilasuvar region, including some 3,700 houses. According to the government, construction on the project began on June 7.

At year's end, the U.S. Department of State estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 displaced persons continued to live in camps "at below-subsistence levels, without adequate food, housing, education, sanitation, or medical care."

Asylum

Although Azerbaijan became a party to the UN Refugee Convention in 1992 and passed a national refugee law in 1999, the government had not begun conducting refugee status determinations by year's end. As a result, UNHCR continued to conduct status determinations in Azerbaijan. UNHCR continued training Azerbaijani officials and set a goal of late 2002/early 2003 for turning over responsibility to the Azerbaijani government. During the year, UNHCR registered 1,595 asylum seekers from the Russian Federation (Chechnya) and 239 from other countries.

Chechens

An estimated 10,000 or more Chechens from the war-torn republic in the Russian Federation were living in Azerbaijan at year's end. Because Azerbaijan does not register Chechens, many register with UNHCR as asylum seekers. At year's end, UNHCR had registered about 8,000 as asylum seekers. Another 2,000 or more were believed to be living in Azerbaijan without documentation and unregistered. Many appeared reluctant to make their presence known.

Although the Azerbaijani government generally does not refoule (forcibly return) Chechen refugees or detain them for living in Azerbaijan without proper documents, the government has stated that it will not recognize Chechens as refugees and denies them the rights and services accorded to government-registered Meskhetian and Azeri refugees, limited though they may be. During the year, Chechens in Azerbaijan complained of police harassment, had very limited access to public assistance and medical care, were not able to register the births of their children, and were not permitted to work. In addition, despite statements by the government to the contrary, Chechens could not send their children to public schools, forcing many to organize makeshift schools in private apartments.

Throughout the year, Russian officials pressured Azerbaijan to block Chechens from entering the country and to extradite to Russia Chechens alleged to have terrorist connections. The Russian government drew little distinction between Chechen refugees and terrorists, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), and increased the pressure on Azerbaijan after several Chechens took over a Moscow theater in October. Following the Moscow hostage taking, Azerbaijan closed the Chechen Rights Protection Center in Baku that was working on behalf of Chechen refugees in the country. According to HRW and the U.S. Department of State, the government also extradited to Russia an unknown number of Chechens for alleged criminal offenses, without considering threats to their lives and safety.

Ethnic Azeris from Armenia and Meskhetian Turks The government of Azerbaijan has granted prima facie refugee status and conferred citizenship rights on two groups: about 220,000 ethnic Azeris, most of whom fled Armenia between 1988 and 1991 when fighting erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh, and about 50,000 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. These two groups, ethnic Azeris and formerly deported Meskhetian Turks, have largely integrated into Azerbaijan, are eligible for citizenship under the 1998 Citizenship Law, and face no threat of forced repatriation or expulsion from Azerbaijan. By the end of 2001, UNHCR estimated that most eligible Azeris and Meskhetian Turks were believed to have naturalized or be in the process of doing so. Because the government has not been able to provide statistics on persons who have naturalized, the U.S. Committee for Refugees counts them as persons in refugee-like circumstances.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Ongoing international mediation and meetings between Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian did not lead to a political settlement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh during the year. Consequently, most displaced Azeris were unable to return to their home areas.

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