Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2017, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Armenia

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 - Armenia , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c018.html [accessed 23 May 2017]
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.

Armenia

At the end of 1999, approximately 240,000 refugees – virtually all ethnic Armenians – were living in Armenia. The overwhelming majority, more than 200,000, fled Azerbaijan proper (areas outside the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh) between 1988 and 1993. Approximately 30,000 more came from Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located in Azerbaijan but controlled by Armenians. About 10,000 others, also ethnic Armenians, came from the breakaway regions of Abkhazia in Georgia or Chechnya in the Russian Federation between 1993 and 1997. (These numbers are based on a joint government/UNHCR survey conducted in 1997.)

Some 60,000 Armenians displaced from villages bordering Azerbaijan since 1993 are believed to have integrated locally and were not receiving UNHCR or government assistance at year's end.

The government reported no significant refugee arrivals or internal displacements during the year. Armenia reportedly received no ethnic Chechens from the renewed conflict in the nearby Russian republic of Chechnya, in part because Russian troops patrolled large areas of Armenia's borders as well as the country's main international airport and because of significant cultural differences between displaced Chechens and Armenia's population.

Since 1994, Armenia has reserved refugee status almost exclusively for ethnic Armenians who fled from Azerbaijan proper. Recognized refugees are entitled to similar civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights as citizens, and generally have access to social services, employment authorization, and the educational system. Like the vast majority of Armenian citizens, however, recognized refugees have difficulty earning enough money to live above the poverty level because of the country's severe economic crisis. Continued economic stagnation, high unemployment, low salaries, and acute housing shortages reportedly led thousands of refugees – especially working-age men – to leave the country in search of better jobs.

Most other refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and Chechnya are not formally recognized as refugees, reportedly because the government foresees and encourages their eventual repatriation. Consequently, they do not enjoy the broad range of rights accorded to citizens and ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan proper. Since a May 1994 cease-fire between ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan government forces, approximately 35,000 ethnic Armenian refugees have returned to Nagorno-Karabakh. The government refers to the 30,000 still living in Armenia as "displaced persons" and encourages them to return to the enclave.

Asylum

Armenia signed the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 1993. Six years later, the government adopted a legal framework to implement the Convention after revising several drafts of the law.

The "Law on Refugees in the Republic of Armenia" took effect on March 27, 1999. Under the new law, asylum seekers have ten days to file an application with a "competent state body for refugee affairs." Applications are to be processed within one month, during which asylum seekers are granted provisional residence rights. Rejected applicants have the right to appeal to a "higher administrative body" and then to a court. Recognized refugees are entitled to many of the rights of Armenian citizens and are eligible for citizenship.

During 1999, UNHCR gradually transferred the responsibility for interviewing applicants and reviewing asylum claims to the Armenian government. UNHCR nevertheless noted that many of the "mechanisms to implement the law have not yet been established."

Armenia received applications from 23 asylum seekers in 1999 – eight from Iran, seven from Iraq, two from Somalia, two from Sudan, two from Yugoslavia, and one from the Russian Federation. (The government classified one applicant as "stateless.") The government approved one of these claims – a Sudanese – and rejected seventeen in the regular asylum procedure. Five claims were pending at year's end.

Citizenship

Faced with few prospects for repatriating ethnic Armenian refugees to areas of Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian national assembly passed a law on citizenship in November 1995. Under the law, ethnic Armenian refugees who have lived in Armenia for three years may apply to the Ministry of the Interior to obtain Armenian national passports and citizenship papers. (Some 188,000 ethnic Azeris who fled from Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remained in Azerbaijan in 1999. Formerly refugees, most reportedly became eligible for Azeri citizenship in 1998 (see )Azerbaijan .

The government completed regulations to implement the citizenship law in 1998. Since then, approximately 13,800 ethnic Armenian refugees have naturalized, including about 7,500 in 1999. This number, however, is less than seven percent of the refugee population who may be eligible for citizenship. Inconsistent government programs and frequent changes in the status, structure, and personnel of the government offices in charge of refugee affairs reportedly deterred many refugees from naturalizing.

Not trusting the government's ability to provide secure jobs, permanent housing, and essential services, many refugees reportedly did not naturalize because, among other things, they feared relinquishing property left behind in Azerbaijan, losing subsidized housing and other refugee assistance, or being conscripted into Armenia's military (from which refugees are exempt).

Nagorno-Karabakh

Despite ongoing international mediation by the six-nation Minsk Group – a subset of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – and several face-to-face meetings between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev, political negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that might enable refugees and displaced persons to return to their home areas remained deadlocked in 1999.

Throughout the year, Armenia maintained control over Nagorno-Karabakh and six surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Opposing forces exchanged fire frequently along the line of contact between the disputed enclave and Azerbaijan proper, and along sections of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.

Mid-year, Armenia and Azerbaijan rejected a Minsk Group proposal to make Nagorno-Karabakh a semi-autonomous "common state." Karabakh's leaders – excluded from the discussions at Azerbaijan's request – pushed to join the negotiations, insisting that without them a durable peace could never be found. In November, the Minsk Group reportedly urged Azerbaijan to permit Karabakh's leaders to attend negotiations scheduled to take place in 2000.

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