(ArmRadio)—Global displacement figures remain at highest levels since the end of the Second World War, giving an alarming picture on the state of our world and indicate the failures in conflict resolution and prevention efforts and advancing human rights protection. Over 60 million people are currently forcibly displaced. The conflict in Syria, only one of the many global trouble spots, has impacted and still impacts Armenia. The war has reached its fifth year, and despite renewed and enhanced efforts of the international community, peace is not in sight. On the contrary, recent fighting in Aleppo resulted in ongoing suffering and many victims included civilians. Flight from the Syrian conflict zones continue albeit refugees facing more and more challenges in accessing safety. Non-governmental organization partners report that about 550 destitute Syrian-Armenians have registered with them seeking support in traveling to Armenia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners are ready and willing to offer initial humanitarian assistance, including by way of provision of temporary rental subsidies upon arrival.
The escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in early April 2016 has also caused renewed destruction, human suffering and displacement, including within Armenian borders. The overwhelming majority of the displaced population consists of women, children and elderly, most of whom originate from the most affected villages close to the line of contact such as Talish and Mataghis villages of Martakert region. Many of them have specific needs, such as pregnant and lactating women or persons suffering from sickness or disability. Most of the displaced families are currently being hosted by relatives or family friends often belonging to the poorer socio-economic class. The UNHCR was impressed by the high level of hospitality and support extended to the displaced by the host communities and likes to express its sincere gratitude to all who have assisted and continue to do so.
The UNHCR in close cooperation with the State Migration Service and the Social Protection Units, who work on identification and registration also involving local authorities, local NGOs and volunteers, quickly developed an assistance program through which a modest stipend was offered to over 400 families (1429 persons) to address their most urgent needs. It is observed that an increasing number of the displaced have returned or are considering return to Artsakh, but the UNHCR would like to emphasize that the voluntary nature of return must be respected. The UNHCR closely liaises with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) colleagues to offer assistance after return to Nagorno-Karabakh.
The UNHCR is pleased to note that since World Refugee Day, some significant progress has been made in improving the Armenian refugee legislation. Important amendments to the Law on Refugees and Asylum came into force in January 2016. It has since been crucial to move swiftly in adopting the necessary bylaws. UNHCR is pleased to share with you that the State Migration Service has engaged in drafting an Integration Strategy. It is crucial that the draft strategy will be discussed and finalized with the involvement of all relevant government, international organizations and civil society stakeholders with a view to ensure broad ownership for the strategy, harmonize approaches, utilize synergies and to gain donor support. The UNHCR has supported the initiative since its inception and is ready to support the consultation and finalization process. The organization also notes with concern that attention given to the difficult security of the country has led to case of a prolonged detention of asylum-seekers of non-Christian backgrounds. The UNHCR calls upon the authorities to address legitimate security concerns in a manner compatible with international refugee law and regional and international human rights law.
On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the UNHCR Representative in Armenia, Christoph Bierwirth emphasised that “Refugees need understanding for their plight, solidarity and support everywhere in the world, so in Armenia.” He noted the integration challenges faced by refugees of non-Armenian backgrounds, particularly of those of African descent.
The 2016 motto of World Refugee Day is “We stand together with Refugees.”
Beirwirth added that “ways to assist and to express solidarity ‘to stand together with refugees’ are manifold. They include the family who hosts displaced relatives from Nagorno-Karabakh, the neighbor who offers a helping hand when a refugee family from Syria or elsewhere moves in next door, the philanthropist who offers an apartment for free or at a reduced, social rent, the student who leads his Syrian-Armenian colleague through the ‘labyrinth’ of Armenian academic institutions, NGO activists, school teachers and directors who accelerate access to schooling, all those who offer small or bigger donations to the many NGOs who care.”
Bierwirth thanked those engaged and called for ongoing humanitarian engagement “by everyone on his own way and with his own available means,” noting that creativity should not be limited.
The importance of media in creating an environment of understanding and conducive for integration cannot be underestimated. While laws and procedures and assistance mechanism are important, it is the receptivity of the host society which makes a refugee feel welcome and allows him or her to find a new home.