UNHCR Welcomes Armenia’s Approach towards Refugees, Displaced Persons


YEREVAN (Public Radio of Armenia) — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) welcomes the receptive approach both the Government of Armenia and the overwhelming majority of the Armenian population have taken in receiving persons displaced due to the conflict in Syria seeking protection in Armenia, according to Christoph Bierwirth, the UNHCR representative in Armenia.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, Armenia has welcomed more than 22,000 persons, primarily of ethnic Armenian background. While some of them have moved on to other countries, serving as migrant workers in the Gulf states, having made use of resettlement opportunities or united with family members elsewhere, the UNHCR estimates that about 15,000 displaced persons continue to stay and UNHCR notes with appreciation the significant progress many families where able to make towards achieving self-reliance and integration into the Armenian society.

“The highly developed service culture, diligence and quality of work of the displaced businessmen and workers has brought fresh energy to the Armenian economy and society and contributes to their development” emphasized Bierwirth, adding that “this fits very well, the new directions of the government as to the economic development of the country giving increased attention to small and medium size enterprises and the development of the tourist sector.”

UNHCR has also noted with appreciation that Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan has repeatedly and publicly acknowledged the value of the displaced population for Armenian economic development, sending a clear message of welcome to the population.

Despite all progress made there are still challenges and more needs to be done to successfully conclude the multifaceted integration process, UNHCR says. Some families, in particular those consisting of elderly, single headed households or students or having family members with disabilities face more problems in their integration, given constraints in their ability to work, limited number of job opportunities and low wages.

In addition to persons displaced due to the conflict in Syria seeking protection in Armenia, the country faces other displacement challenges. Among the over 360,000 persons who were displaced between 1988 and 1992 in context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, some 2,000 have not yet availed themselves to the opportunity of naturalization in Armenian and remain de jure refugees.

The escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in early April 2016 resulted in, at peak, over 2000 persons, overwhelmingly women, children and elderly, having fled from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Most of them found shelter with relatives or family friends often belonging to the poorer segments of the society. UNHCR was impressed by the level of hospitality and support extended to the displaced.  The cash based intervention allowed for a more dignified and flexible response. Most of those displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh were able to return; by the end of 2016 a total of 573 persons (representing 172 households), primarily originating from the conflict affected village of Talish, remained in displacement.

Moreover, Armenia also hosts refugees displaced due to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as well as refugees from Iraq, Iran and in smaller numbers originating from a variety of African and Asian countries. UNHCR wishes to emphasize that refugee protection needs to be offered without discrimination and irrespective of ethnic background or religion of the displaced.

In conclusion of the media briefing on the occasion of World Refugee Day 2017 the UNHCR Bierwirth noted: “In Armenia the recollection of the terrible and tragic events which started 102 years ago entail the memory of many Armenians having survived because protection, asylum was offered to them by other nations, in Europe, in the Americas, but also in many Arab countries.  The institution of asylum is valued highly in the Armenian society. This collective memory and experience should also govern approaches to today’s displacement challenges.”

He emphasized: “Refugee protection and integration is not only a task for the authorities, everyone, every member of the society can contribute to the creation of a receptive environment. Everyone can and should care; be it the landlord who offers rent at a fair price, the employer who offers a fair salary to the displaced employee and patience during the initial coaching and adaptation period, the neighbor who offers a helping hand to the refugee who moves in next door, the consumer who makes a choice between cheap and sometimes low quality imports and the products offered by displaced entrepreneurs, or the student who shows his new displaced fellow student around the campus and familiarizes him or her with the study system in Armenia. There is no limit for creativity as to ways how to address the plight of refugees and means to demonstrate that you care.”