YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The budget of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Armenia is gradually reducing. If in the mid 90’s the average annual budget totaled about $3.5 million–in 1999 it has been reduced to $2.5 million. In the year to come the UNHCR Armenia budget will likely go down to about $1.5 million–UNHCR Representative in Armenia Thomas Birath told participants in a seminar organized by the Fund Against Violation of Law.
Birath noted that over 10 years the refugee situation in Armenia has been gradually losing its priority in the eyes of the international community.
"New flows of refugees appear in different parts of the world and the problems of those refugees require immediate resolution," Birath said. He noted that the Armenian Office of UNHCR has been paying special attention to providing refugees with housing. Other problems such unemployment–low living standards are the same for the local population and they should be solved generally–"without discriminating between refugees and non-refugees." According to Birath–the UNHCR Armenia Office is not planning to end its activities in Armenia and will continue to promote the implementation of programs dealing with refugee issues. He also stressed that with this the role of state structures–which should assume the main responsibility in refugee-related issues–is increasing.
The Head of the Department of Migration and Refugees Gagik Yeganian noted that until recently state structures were mainly involved in solving immediate problems. Currently–he said–the Department should not waste its activities and "turn into a headquarters for reception of refugees."
The resolution of problems–according to Yeganian–lies within the development of a complex program and law-making activities–where particular attention should be paid to the housing problem.
Many participants of the seminar put into question the possibility of implementing housing construction programs at the expense of budget funds. Birath also said that it is necessary to look for new donors and sponsors. Birath opined also that some ad hoc decisions are also possible–such as privatization of communal centers by refugees.