Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 12:58 GMT

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

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 - Armenia , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c13fc.html [accessed 12 December 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.

At the end of 2001, more than 264,000 persons – virtually all ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan during the 1988-1993 war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region – were living in refugee-like circumstances in Armenia. The vast majority were eligible for Armenian citizenship, faced little or no threat of forced return to Azerbaijan, and had largely integrated into Armenia. Therefore, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) no longer considers them to be refugees in need of protection but rather persons living in "refugee-like" circumstances.

In contrast, Armenia did not recognize as refugees an estimated 11,000 persons, almost all ethnic Armenians, who fled conflicts in Chechnya (Russian Federation) and Abkhazia (Georgia) and whom USCR regards as being in need of protection.

About 50,000 persons remained internally displaced because of conflict in 2001.

During 2001, about 6,600 Armenians sought asylum in European countries, a slight decrease from the 6,700 Armenian asylum seekers in Europe the previous year. The largest numbers sought asylum in Austria (1,259), the Czech Republic (1,022), and Germany (893). Another 1,967 Armenians sought asylum in the United States.

General Conditions

In 2001, Armenia continued to be economically depressed and politically unstable. A prolonged drought, particularly severe in the southern area of the country, exacerbated the situation. An estimated 800,000 Armenians have left the country in the past decade, according to a July 2001 Wall Street Journal report, with some estimates of the exodus as high as 1.5 million, about half the country's population.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Despite ongoing international mediation, political negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that might enable ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan to return to their home areas remained at an impasse in 2001.

According to the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh, the population of the enclave stood at about 143,000 in 2001, slightly higher than the ethnic Armenian population in the region in 1988, before the conflict. Government officials in Armenia have reported that about 1,000 settler families from Armenia reside in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin Corridor, a strip of land that separates Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia. According to the government, 875 ethnic Armenian refugees returned to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2001. Most, but not all, of the ethnic Armenian settlers in Nagorno-Karabakh are former refugees from Azerbaijan. Settlers choosing to reside in and around Nagorno-Karabakh reportedly receive the equivalent of $365 and a house from the de facto authorities.

Internal Displacement

Although the Armenian government counted 192,000 displaced people within Armenia in 2001, based on information and analysis in a November 2000 report by the UN secretary general's representative on internal displacement, USCR believes that a more accurate estimate of the number of people still displaced as a result of conflict is about 50,000. Some 500,000 were rendered homeless by a major earthquake in 1988, about 100,000 of whom remained displaced 12 years later (USCR does not count victims of natural disasters in its tally of internal displacement, but only persons displaced because of conflict and other human rights abuses).

Part of the difficulty in estimating the number of conflict-induced internally displaced persons in Armenia stems from their lower profile as a group, compared to both the refugee influx (about 340,000) from Azerbaijan and the earthquake-displaced population. Conflict-induced displaced people originate from areas bordering Azerbaijan, forced to move because of sporadic shelling and skirmishes in the border areas. According to the government's report to the UN, 12,300 houses in the border region were damaged and 40 percent totally destroyed. Many displaced persons moved frequently and dispersed widely within and outside Armenia. According to a 1998 survey, about half of the internally displaced initially left villages for summer pasture lands, and from there sought safer accommodations elsewhere. In fact, since the 1994 cease-fire, many internally displaced persons have returned to their homes or moved out of the country entirely.

Given the generally high rates of unemployment and poverty in Armenia, the World Food Program developed needs-based criteria for assisting 110,000 vulnerable persons and did not specifically identify internally displaced persons as a beneficiary group or list internal displacement among the criteria for need. The Armenian government has established a Department for Migration and Refugees, which is supporting a project to facilitate the return of 39,000 internally displaced persons to the border region, as well as assisting 28,000 who have already returned. On the basis of these figures, and recognizing that not all displaced people are necessarily enrolled in this return program, USCR estimates the number of conflict-induced persons remaining displaced within Armenia to be about 50,000.

No new internal displacement occurred during the year.

Ethnic Armenian Refugee Integration

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 Article 10 of the law, ethnic Armenian refugees had until the end of 2001 to apply to the Interior Ministry to obtain Armenian national passports and citizenship papers. Citizenship is granted automatically to eligible persons who request to be de-registered as refugees in order to obtain citizenship. Although the deadline for naturalization ended, observers believed that naturalization would still be available to ethnic Armenian refugees.

Under Article 13 of the law, nonethnic Armenian refugees who have lived in the country for three years and speak Armenian are also eligible to obtain citizenship.

Since the law came into effect in 1999, about 40,000 ethnic Armenian refugees have naturalized, including about 16,300 in 2001. This number, however, is less than ten percent of the refugee population who are eligible for citizenship.

Many refugees reportedly have not naturalized because they fear relinquishing property left behind in Azerbaijan, losing subsidized housing and other assistance (which is actually needs-based, regardless of status), or being conscripted into Armenia's military (from which refugees are exempt).

To allay fears among refugees that acquiring citizenship would result in the loss of social benefits, the government adopted a law in December 2000 to provide social and economic guarantees for Armenian citizens who had been forcibly displaced from Azerbaijan. The law is designed to help naturalized ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan secure legal permanent housing, use community services, and potentially receive compensation for property left behind in Azerbaijan (if and when Azerbaijan and Armenia reach a bilateral agreement that includes such compensation).

During the year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) assisted refugees living in substandard communal housing or container-type shelters in moving into 385 reconstructed apartments. Refugees moving into reconstructed housing are required to apply for citizenship. UNHCR and NGOs also assisted refugees in 230 collective centers.

Asylum

Armenia narrowed its Law on Refugees in 2001 with a series of amendments. The amended refugee law introduced a "safe third country" provision barring asylum applicants who "could have been granted refugee status" in a country through which they transited if that country itself does not present a persecution threat. The amendment also stipulated that a grant of refugee status expires after three years, at which time it will only be extended if the conditions that gave rise to the refugee status still exist. The new law also established additional grounds for terminating refugee status.

Under the law, asylum seekers have ten days to file an application with the Department of Migration and Refugees (DMR). Applications are to be processed by the DMR 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.

Armenia also adopted a new Law on Political Asylum in 2001, directed especially towards prominent public figures seeking political asylum from the Armenian president. Four sets of draft regulations pertaining to the new law were pending at year's end. It was unclear to what extent the asylum law would potentially overlap with the existing refugee law, and whether it might precipitate a second status-determination procedure.

At year's end, the government had recognized six persons as refugees, while one refugee claim was pending. During the year, the government considered 12 new asylum claims, but only accepted one (an Iraqi). The other recognized refugees (two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Sudanese) had been granted asylum in previous years.

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