Government Unveils $20M Plan for Refugees

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government has drawn up a $20 million plan to build homes for thousands of refugees from Azerbaijan and will turn to Western donor for the bulk of the funding–a senior official said on Thursday.

According to Gagik Yeganian–the head of its Department on Refugee Affairs and Migration–the plan will target 4,000 low-income refugee families that still live in deplorable conditions more than 13 years after fleeing anti-Armenian violence in Azerbaijan. He said the government can provide only $5 million of the sum required for its implementation.

"We expect to get the rest of the money from the international donor community," Yeganian told reporters. He would not say which concrete donor agencies will be asked to contribute to the effort and whether the government has already approached any of them.

The problem of refugees is one of the persisting consequences of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabagh conflict that has displaced more than one million Armenia’s and Azerbaijanis. Over 300,000 ethnic Armenian residents of Azerbaijan took refuge in Armenia between 1988 and 1990. Many of them have since emigrated to Russia and other former Soviet republics in the face of difficult socioeconomic conditions.

Many of those who stayed in the country continue to struggle for survival without decent incomes and housing. The government estimates that some 3,000 refugee families still huddle in run-down hostels–boarding houses and other temporary shelters. "The majority of them lack basic utilities," Yeganian admitted.

Eight hundred families live on state property and–under an Armenian law adopted in December 2000–are eligible for privatizing their modest homes free of charge if they adopt Armenian citizenship. On Thursday the government approved ownership certificates for 122 of them living in ten different locations across the country. The privatization of 70 other refugee homes is in the works–Yeganian said.

The fate of the other poor refugees whose lodgings were privatized in recent years is far more uncertain. Some have already faced evictions by their private landlords anxious to find a more lucrative use of the real estate. The law in question stipulates that the private owners must offer the refugees alternative housing or adequate financial compensation before they can force the latter out of the lodgings. Several eviction cases have already been heard by local courts.

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