The conflict in Syria has impacted and still impacts on Armenia: UNHCR

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 as to failures in conflict resolution and prevention efforts and advancing human rights protection. Over 60 million people are presently forcibly displaced. The conflict in Syria, only one of many present global trouble spots, has impacted and still impacts on Armenia. It has passed its 5th year and despite renewed and enhanced efforts of the international community peace is not in sight. To the contrary recent fighting in Aleppo resulted in renewed suffering and many victims including among civilians. Flight from the Syrian conflict zones continue albeit refugees are facing more and more challenges in accessing safety and a harsher protection environment.  NGO partners report that about 550 destitute Syrian Armenians have registered with them seeking support in traveling to Armenia. 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 into Armenia. 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 and 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 presently hosted by relatives or family friends often themselves belonging to the poorer segments of the society. UNHCR was impressed by the high level of hospitality and support extended to the displaced by the host communities and likes to expresses its sincere gratitude to all those who assisted and still continue to help.

UNHCR in close cooperation with the State Migration Service and the Social Protection Units,  who worked on identification and registration and also involving local authorities, local NGO-s and volunteers, quickly developed a small assistance programme, through which a modest cash assistance was offered to over 400 families (1429 persons) with a view to address their most urgent needs. It is observed that an increasing number of the displaced have returned or are considering return, but UNHCR would like to emphasise that the voluntary nature of return must be respected and returned. UNHCR closely liaises with our ICRC colleagues as to assistance to be offered after return to Nagrono-Karabakh.

UNHCR is pleased to note that since WRD 2015 some significant progress has been made in improving the Armenian refugee legislation. Important amendments to the Law on Refugees and Asylum entered into force in January 2016. It is now crucial to move swiftly in adopting the necessary by-laws. 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 finalised with the involvement of all relevant government, international organisations and civil society stakeholders with a view to ensure broad ownership for the strategy, harmonise approaches, utilise synergies and to gain donor support. UNHCR has supported the initiative from its outset and is ready to support the consultation and finalisation process. UNHCR notes with concern that understandable attention to the difficult security environment of the country has led to case of prolonged detention of asylum-seekers of non-Christian background. 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, Mr. Christoph Bierwirth emphasised: “Refugees need understanding for their plight, solidarity and support everywhere in the world, so in Armenia.”  He noted in particular the integration challenges faced by refugees of non-Armenian background, in particular of those of African descent.

This year’s motto of world refugee day brings it well to the point: “We stand together with Refugees”. He added that: “ways to assist, to express solidarity ‘to stand together with refugees’ are manifold. They include: The family who hosts some 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. Mr. Bierwirth thanked those engaged, 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, 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, which allows him or her to find a new home.

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