Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

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

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 - Armenia , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc4956.html [accessed 16 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 2002, about 256,000 persons, virtually all ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan during the 1988–93 war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, were living in refugee-like circumstances in Armenia. Many have lived in dire socio-economic conditions for over a decade; however, the vast majority is eligible for Armenian citizenship, faces no threat of forced return to Azerbaijan, and has largely integrated into Armenia. The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), therefore, considers them to be persons living in "refugee-like" circumstances, rather than refugees in need of protection.

In contrast, Armenia had not yet officially recognized as refugees an estimated 11,000 persons, almost all ethnic Armenians, who fled conflicts in Chechnya (Russian Federation) and Abkhazia (Georgia). Because of the inadequacies of the Armenian asylum process, USCR regards them as refugees. Although they do not appear to be at risk of being forcefully returned to their countries of origin, they lacked official status in Armenia at year's end.

An estimated 50,000 persons remained internally displaced because of conflict in the early 1990s.

During 2002, about 11,900 Armenians sought asylum in industrialized countries. In Europe, the largest numbers sought asylum in Austria (2,000), France (970), and Germany (900). Another approximately 4,960 Armenians sought asylum in the United States.

Ethnic Armenian Integration In the absence of a peace settlement with Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia has taken steps to locally integrate the more than 300,000 ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, offering them citizenship.

Under Article 10 of the 1995 Law on Citizenship, as amended in March 2002, ethnic Armenians who are registered with the government as refugees from Azerbaijan (hereinafter "Armenia refugees") may apply to the government to obtain Armenian passports and citizenship papers. Citizenship is granted automatically to persons who de-register as Armenia refugees. The March 2002 amendment extended the deadline for application to December 2003.

The government completed regulations to implement the citizenship law in 1998. Since then, approximately 48,300 Armenia refugees have naturalized, including about 8,500 in 2002. This number, however, is less than 20 percent of the refugee-like population who are eligible. The majority of those eligible lives in abject poverty and relies on humanitarian assistance from the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the World Food Program, UNICEF, U.S. Agency for International Development, and OXFAM. Many are reportedly hesitant to naturalize because they feel that the benefits of citizenship do not outweigh the loss of housing subsidies and other assistance provided to Armenia refugees. Others reportedly fear being conscripted into Armenia's military (from which registered refugees are exempt).

In December 2000, the government adopted a law providing certain guarantees for Armenian citizens who had been forcibly displaced from Azerbaijan. The law would help them with housing, community services, and compensation for property left behind in Azerbaijan, should Azerbaijan and Armenia achieve such a settlement.

During the year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs helped families among the refugee-like population who agreed to naturalize to move into 196 permanent apartments.

Internal Displacement

Although the Armenian government estimates that about 72,000 persons are internally displaced because of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh – which is located in Azerbaijan, but controlled by Armenia – USCR believes that number to be closer to 50,000. Most are Armenian farmers and villagers uprooted from regions bordering Azerbaijan. A smaller, unknown number are ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan who initially settled inside Armenia and then became uprooted again when the conflict spilled into the border regions.

Virtually all of the displaced come from districts bordering Azerbaijan, including Tavoush, Sjounik, Vajots Dzor, Ararat, and Gegharkounik. Since Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a cease-fire agreement in 1994, at least 28,000 have returned to their homes and an undetermined number have moved out of the country entirely.

Estimates of the size of this displaced population vary, in part because the population is dispersed throughout the country.

In addition, this internally displaced population in Armenia has received less attention from the government and the international community than either the refugee-like population from Azerbaijan (about 256,000) or the 100,000 or so who remain displaced from a major earthquake in 1988. (USCR does not count victims of natural disasters in its tally of internally displaced persons.)

The government's ability to assist the displaced is limited, but the Department for Migration and Refugees (DMR) helped some 39,000 internally displaced persons return to the border region and assisted those who had already returned. Recognizing that not all displaced people are enrolled in this return program, USCR estimated the number of internally displaced persons in Armenia to be about 50,000. No new internal displacement occurred during the year.

Asylum Armenia is a party to the UN Refugee Convention and adopted implementing legislation in 1999. In 2001 and 2002, however, the government narrowed the scope of the law and limited the protection it provides refugees. At year's end, the asylum system remained inaccessible to some 11,000 ethnic Armenian refugees without status.

Under the new law, asylum seekers have ten days to file an application with the DMR. Applications are to be processed within one month, during which time asylum seekers are granted provisional residence rights. Rejected applicants have the right to appeal to a higher administrative body and then to a court.

In 2001, Armenia 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 threat of persecution. The provision also stipulated that a grant of refugee status expires after three years, to be extended only if the conditions that gave rise to the refugee status still exist. The 2001 provisions also established additional grounds for terminating refugee status.

In 2002, Armenia introduced a new "temporary asylum" status good for one year, on a renewable basis. The DMR may grant temporary asylum to foreign citizens or stateless persons who meet the refugee definition, as well as to those who are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin because they fear torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or threats to their life.

Individuals granted temporary asylum have the same rights and obligations as refugees, except they do not receive the lump sum of money given to registered refugees. The DMR may revoke temporary asylum if the circumstances that served as a basis for the claim cease to exist, the person receives refugee status or any other legal residence status, he or she leaves Armenia, or if the grantee is found to have provided false information or to be a security risk to the country.

The government reportedly intended to apply the status retroactively and on a prima facie basis for some 11,000 ethnic Armenian refugees who fled the conflicts in Chechnya and Abkhazia. Because of the inadequacies and inaccessibility of the asylum system in Armenia, USCR counts these persons among refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection.

At year's end, Armenia had not yet implemented a new Law on Political Asylum, adopted in 2001, designed for the Armenian president to grant protection to prominent public figures seeking political asylum. It remained unclear to what extent the asylum law would overlap with the existing refugee law, and whether it might precipitate a second status-determination procedure.

At the end of 2002, the government recognized 11 persons as refugees, while 3 refugee claims were pending. The government considered seven new asylum claims and accepted five (two Iraqis and three Iranians) during the year. Six recognized refugees (two Somalis, three Iraqis, and one Sudanese) were granted refugee status in previous years.

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