Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2014, 11:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Azerbaijan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Azerbaijan , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c13f14.html [accessed 26 November 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 2001, more than 572,000 people were still internally displaced from western regions of Azerbaijan under Armenian occupation since 1993. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered about 7,000 refugees and asylum seekers at year's end.

In addition, about 272,000 persons were living in refugee-like circumstances in Azerbaijan in 2001. These included about 220,000 ethnic Azeris from Armenia and 52,000 Meskhetian Turks.

In 2001, UNHCR assisted in resettling 234 refugees to countries outside the region, including 151 Afghans. Another 114 persons accepted for resettlement had not yet departed by year's end. The largest number (57) were accepted by Canada, followed by Sweden (15) and the United States (13).

During 2001, nearly 3,500 persons from Azerbaijan applied for asylum in other European countries, an 11 percent decrease from the previous year.

Internal Displacement

Since a 1994 cease-fire ended much of the fighting in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, about 72,000 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 surrounding provinces that make up about 16 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, the vast majority of the displaced cannot return to their home regions.

Those who remained displaced in 2001 included about 40,000 from Nagorno-Karabakh and 530,000 from regions just outside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Fizuli (130,909 persons), Agdam (129,865), Lachin (62,872), and Kelbajar (60,770). The overwhelming majority were ethnic Azeris. However, about 4,000 Kurds from the Lachin and Kelbajar regions and several hundred ethnic Russians were also displaced.

Although most of the displaced originated from rural areas, about 55 percent settled in urban areas after being displaced, mostly in the capital, Baku, and Sumgait. More than half of the displaced persons still lived in "temporary" accommodations at year's end, such as public buildings (83,037 persons), hostels (77,309), schools and day-care centers (40,586), abandoned railroad cars (6,512), partially constructed buildings (13,489), sanatoriums (25,740), camp settlements (46,889), and makeshift roadside settlements (14,332).

The more fortunate (or well-to-do) lived with relatives or host families (117,303 persons), on farms (28,542), in houses built by humanitarian agencies (35,889), or houses built by the State Committee for Refugees (7,848). Another 48,566 were living in apartments that they occupied illegally.

The government restricted the movement and residence of displaced people through the continued use of the Soviet-era propiska system, which required the displaced to seek approval from local officials before changing their residences and to register their locations with the authorities.

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 the same access to health care, primary and secondary education, and social services as citizens. However, in practice, refugees and displaced persons reported having to pay for the services – including schooling and medical care – that were supposed to be free to them under the law.

Throughout the year, displaced communities struggled to cope with their situation, often facing severe economic hardship. Few among the displaced had jobs or access to farmland. According to the World Bank, the internally displaced were among the poorest segments of Azerbaijani society.

International humanitarian funding for Azerbaijan has been decreasing for several years. UNHCR's annual appeal for Azerbaijan decreased 61 percent from $12 million for 1999 to $4.7 million for 2000; its actual budget in 2000 was $4 million. In 2001, the budget slipped to $3.9 million. The World Food Program continued to provide food aid, but to a reduced number of beneficiaries.

Asylum

In 1993, Azerbaijan signed the UN Refugee Convention and in 1999 adopted a national refugee law that established a legal basis for receiving asylum seekers and refugees from outside the former Soviet Union. In 2000, President Heydar Aliyev approved a decree, drafted in cooperation with UNHCR, to enable the government to begin conducting refugee status determinations. During 2001, UNHCR began training Azerbaijani officials in status determination procedures and set a late 2002/early 2003 goal for turning over responsibility for adjudicating asylum claims to the Azerbaijani government. In the meantime, however, UNHCR continued conducting status determinations.

UNHCR granted 360 persons refugee status during the year (246 Afghans, 62 Chechens, and 45 others). Another 5,573 Chechens and 1,127 Afghans had asylum applications pending with UNHCR at year's end.

Chechens

UNHCR provided all registered Chechen asylum seekers in Azerbaijan with "letters of concern," calling upon the authorities not to return the asylum seekers to the Russian Federation. The letters – only valid for a limited time and not automatically renewable – are written in English, Russian, and Azeri, and explain to authorities that the bearer of the letter (whose photograph is appended) is of concern to UNHCR under an extended interpretation of its mandate.

Thousands of Chechens were also believed to be living in Azerbaijan without documentation and without having registered asylum claims with UNHCR. Chechens in Azerbaijan complained of police harassment, and many appeared reluctant to make their presence known.

During an October visit to Baku, Russian Interior Minister Boris Grylov commented that Chechen refugees should be barred from entering the country and that those currently in Azerbaijan should be extradited to Russia. The comments, which came in the context of public remarks on cooperation against terrorism, drew little distinction between refugees and terrorists.

Because most refugees from Chechnya in Azerbaijan were not officially registered, tracking their movement was difficult. According to an Azerbaijani newspaper report in October, the chairman of the Committee for Chechen Refugee Affairs said that most of the estimated 7,000 Chechen refugees had returned to Chechnya during a three-month period in late summer. He reportedly said that they left because they could not feed themselves in Azerbaijan. His estimates could not be independently confirmed. Other estimates put the number of Chechens in Azerbaijan at 10,000 at year's end.

Although the Azerbaijani government generally does not refoule Chechen refugees (forcibly return them to Russia) or detain them for living in Azerbaijan without proper documents, authorities deny them propiskas and the 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 Azerbaijani schools.

Afghans

After U.S. military action began in Afghanistan in early October, Azerbaijan reportedly expelled an undetermined number of Afghans along its border with Iran. UNHCR issues "protection letters" to registered Afghan asylum seekers comparable to the letters provided to registered Chechens.

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 52,000 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.

The roughly 200,000 ethnic Azeris and 51,649 "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.

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 2001.

Because many of these two groups still live in "temporary" accommodations and struggle to survive, and 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.

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