During 2003, more than 571,000 people remained internally displaced from western regions of Azerbaijan under Armenian occupation since 1993. They included about 40,000 persons from Nagorno-Karabakh and more than 530,000 from regions just outside, including Agdam (130,000), Fizuli (126,000), Lachin (65,000), and Kelbajar (62,000).

In addition, about 10,300 refugees and asylum seekers – including about 8,000 Chechens from Russia and 1,500 Afghans – were living in the country at year's end. Because Azerbaijan does not register Chechens, they register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as asylum seekers but an unknown number may remain without documentation, unregistered, and reluctant to make their presence known. UNHCR registered about 900 new refugees and asylum seekers, including some 700 from Chechnya, 70 from Afghanistan, and 50 from Iran. UNHCR recognized 33 persons as refugees during the year.

About 211,000 persons who had been counted as people in refugee-like situations in Azerbaijan, have been offered citizenship. These include about 165,000 ethnic Azeris from Armenia and 46,000 Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan. They have largely integrated into Azerbaijan and face no threat of forced repatriation or expulsion from Azerbaijan. The U.S. Committee for Refugees considers them to have a durable solution.

During 2003, some 3,900 persons from Azerbaijan applied for asylum in other European countries and the United States and some 4,400 remained refugees or asylum seekers at year's end.


Although they have not been granted refugee status in Azerbaijan, the government considers Chechens to be temporary "guests" – an unofficial status also given to Afghans and Iraqis – and generally does not detain them for lack of proper documents. Many of them hold internal Soviet passports equivalent to identity cards that enable them to enter, exit, and move throughout the country without a visa. Those remaining more than 30 days are required to register with authorities and obtain a registration certificate ("propiska") to work and access health care and education. However, most Chechens do not, rendering their status illegal.

With help from UNHCR, some Chechens sent their children to public schools but the majority organized makeshift schools in private apartments.

Throughout the year, Russian officials pressured Azerbaijan to extradite Chechens alleged to have terrorist connections. Although Azerbaijan generally does not refoule (forcibly return) Chechen refugees, unconfirmed reports state that the government turned over 38 Chechens to Russian authorities during 2003.


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