Refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia

Report (1)

Doc. 7837

3 June 1997

Rapporteur: Mrs Ana Guirado, Spain, Socialist Group


 

Summary

 

Transcaucasia is a region which has around one and a half million refugees and displaced persons living in very difficult humanitarian conditions, many of whom have been in this position for eight years. As Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia do not have adequate resources for dealing with this influx of people, the three countries are still largely dependent on international aid, both for humanitarian purposes and for development projects. At the same time, the repatriation of the displaced persons is being held up by the lack of progress in finding solutions to the conflicts in Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

 

The Assembly wishes to draw attention to this humanitarian crisis which is going largely unnoticed in the rest of Europe. It recommends that the Committee of Ministers, in co-operation with other relevant international organisations, take steps to boost the programmes for these countries, which are currently moving towards membership of the Council of Europe. It urges the member states to contribute generously to aid for the states in the region and calls on the Council of Europe Social Development Fund to set up a task force to examine what possibilities it has for action in Transcaucasia. Lastly, it recommends that the three Transcaucasian republics give priority to repatriation in their peace negotiations, while strictly respecting the human rights of the refugees and displaced persons, including the freedom to choose their place of residence.

 

I. Draft recommendation

 

1.After former Yugoslavia, Transcaucasia is the region of Europe that is most affected at present by the problems of refugees and displaced persons, of whom there are around 900,000 in Azerbaijan, 300,000 in Armenia and 300,000 in Georgia. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people have left the region for other countries, in particular Russia.

 

2.The Assembly recalls Recommendation 1263 (1995) and Resolution 1059 (1995) on the humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan and Recommendation 1305 (1996) on the humanitarian situation of the displaced persons in Georgia, and regrets the fact that most of the proposals contained in these texts have not been followed up in practice.

 

3.Eight years after the start of the mass forced population movements in the region, the number of refugees and displaced persons is not diminishing, very few of them have been able to return home and the humanitarian situation remains very difficult. We are beginning to see a whole generation of young people growing up in refugee centres which will become a lost generation. Furthermore, some persons are still deprived of their freedom as prisoners or hostages or are missing.

 

4.The Assembly is worried by the reduction in humanitarian aid as a result of "donor fatigue". While recognising that it is important to avoid creating dependence on international aid, it believes that aid should only be reduced gradually and in line with increases in the resources of the countries concerned.

 

5.The Assembly stresses that the refugees and displaced persons will not be able to lead a normal life until they are properly housed. Aid with the construction of housing should be a priority, and the Council of Europe Social Development Fund should make a contribution in this area.

 

6.Even though there is no longer a direct threat of the refugees and displaced persons dying of hunger or cold, they are facing another serious problem in the form of public health. International aid for productive sectors, in the form, for example, of funding for education and job-creation schemes, is thus crucially important as a means of getting the refugees and displaced persons back into work.

 

7.The Assembly welcomes the implementation of integration policies, which it believes to be the only long-term solution for people who do not wish to return to their homes. Nevertheless, integration should not lead to the states in question disengaging from efforts to solve the specific problems of the refugees and displaced persons, who are in a more vulnerable position than the rest of the population, in both legal and economic terms.

 

8.However, in the case of the 700,000 displaced persons in Azerbaijan, the 280,000 displaced persons in Georgia and other displaced persons in the region, the Assembly believes that the long-term solution should be their return to their former homes. It therefore urges all the parties concerned to do their utmost to bring about a political settlement which will enable them to return home in the near future.

 

9.The Assembly stresses that a political settlement is a precondition for the success of repatriation, but not the only one. If the social and economic conditions are not right, the large-scale return of refugees and displaced persons is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The member states and the entire international community should contribute to the economic reconstruction of the regions to which displaced persons are to return.

 

10. The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.step up dialogue with the three states concerned and the main organisations providing aid in the region, in particular the European Union, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with a view to making arrangements for increased involvement by the Council of Europe in aid programmes in areas that fall within its competence, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for questions related to the application of international humanitarian law in the region;

ii.invite the Social Development Fund to focus actively on this region and for this purpose to set up a task force to consider what it can do in the region, in particular in the housing sector;

iii.pay particular attention, when considering the applications for membership by the three Transcaucasian republics, to their track records in terms of respect for the human rights of refugees and displaced persons and to their positions as regards creating the conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons, as well as to their respect for international humanitarian law;

iv.invite the European Community to maintain - and, if possible, increase - its level of aid to the region, while gradually moving from humanitarian aid to development aid;

v.urge the member states:

  1. to contribute generously, at bilateral or multilateral level, to humanitarian aid for the states in the region, as well as housing construction schemes, education and job-creation projects, paying special attention to the most vulnerable groups, in particular women;

  2. to contribute generously to the funding of the programmes agreed for the states in the region at the Regional conference on refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and repatriation in the Commonwealth of Independent States in Geneva in May 1996;

  3. to take the initiative, at international level, of beginning preparations for an international donor conference for the economic and social reconstruction of the region;

vi.invite Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as a part of a general political settlement:

  1. to implement the principles set out in Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1119 (1997) to enable, inter alia, the displaced persons in Azerbaijan and Georgia to return home as quickly as possible;

  2. strictly to respect international humanitarian law and the human rights of the refugees and displaced persons and, in particular, to respect their free choice as to the place of residence and to refrain from forcibly recruiting them into the armed forces;

  3. to take all necessary measures to provide the refugees with travel documents;

  4. in order to facilitate the safe return of refugees and displaced persons, to take all necessary measures as a matter of urgency to clear the region of anti-personnel landmines;

vii.invite Armenia and Azerbaijan:

  1. to make the return of the displaced persons in Azerbaijan a priority in their negotiations so as to enable these people to return in safety, even before an overall settlement;

  2. to recognise the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their areas of origin and regain their property, with proper compensation for any damage suffered, or, if voluntary return cannot be implemented, to recognise the need to provide compensation for property lost or abandoned by refugees and displaced persons and to conclude an agreement enabling the persons concerned to receive compensation as quickly as possible;

  3. to take all necessary measures to clarify the fate of missing persons and to give the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) unrestricted access to persons protected by the Geneva Conventions;

viii.invite Georgia:

  1. to accede without delay to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol;

  2. to create favourable conditions for the return of the Meshketian Turks;

ix.recalling its Resolution 1047 (1994) on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, urge the states bordering on the Transcaucasian countries not to hinder the passage of humanitarian aid across their territory.

 

II. Draft order

1.The Assembly refers to its Recommendation .... (1997) on the situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia.

 

2.In view of the scale of the population displacements in the region and the fact that the Parliamentary Assembly will undoubtedly have to pay particular attention to the solution of the related problems for several years to come, it instructs its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to monitor the situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia and to report back if necessary.

 

III. Explanatory memorandum by Ms Guirado

 

Contents

I.    INTRODUCTION

II.    AZERBAIJAN

1.    Fact-finding visit by the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee on refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan (25-27 February 1997)

2.    Number and origin of the refugees and displaced persons

3.    Humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced persons

4.    Refugees and displaced persons: different policies regarding long-term solutions

III.    ARMENIA

1.    Fact-finding visit by the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee on refugees and displaced persons in Armenia (14-16 April 1997)

2.    Number and origin of the refugees and displaced persons

3.    Humanitarian situation

4.    Integration of the refugees

5.    Compensation

IV.    GEORGIA

V.    INTERNATIONAL AID

VI.    REPATRIATION

1.    Political aspect

2.    Social and economic aspects and humanitarian aid

VII.    SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT FUND

VIII.    REGIONAL CONFERENCE ON REFUGEES, DISPLACED PERSONS, OTHER FORMS OF INVOLUNTARY DISPLACEMENT AND REPATRIATION IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF INDEPENDENT STATES (CIS) (Geneva, May 1996)

IX.    CONCLUSION

APPENDIX: Map of Transcaucasia


 

I. Introduction

 

1.After former Yugoslavia, Transcaucasia _ comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia _ is the region of Europe that is most affected at present by the problems of refugees and displaced persons. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in these three countries, and around 900,000 of them are in Azerbaijan, 300,000 in Armenia and 300,000 in Georgia. At the same time, hundreds of thousands more have left the region for other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), in particular Russia.

 

2.The objective of this report is to examine the living conditions of the refugees and displaced persons in this region, to inform the Parliamentary Assembly about them and to offer the Assembly proposals for recommendations to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe aimed at helping to improve the difficult situation of these people and contributing to a satisfactory and lasting solution.

 

3.Two aspects of the report need to be highlighted. The first is its humanitarian emphasis. The rapporteur does not intend to give a political analysis of the circumstances which led to the mass displacements of population seen in the region or to describe the political and economic situation in the three countries concerned. These issues have been covered in other Assembly documents such as the report on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (1994, Doc. 7182) and the recent report on the conflicts in Transcaucasia (April 1997, Doc. 7793).

 

4.The second is the informative nature of the report. The public in Europe and the world at large are largely unaware of the presence of a very large number of refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia and of the scale of the related problems. The human suffering is the same wherever such situations occur and whoever is involved, and the situation in Transcaucasia therefore deserves the same attention as similar situations elsewhere in Europe. This is all the more important for the Council of Europe since the three Transcaucasian republics hold special guest status at the Parliamentary Assembly and the process leading to their accession to the Council has begun.

 

5.The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography ("the committee") has already presented two reports concerning the situation of the refugees and displaced persons in the three countries concerned (rapporteur: Mr Atkinson, United Kingdom), on the basis of which the Assembly adopted Recommendation 1263 (1995) and Resolution 1059 (1995) on the humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan and Recommendation 1305 (1996) on the humanitarian situation of the displaced persons in Georgia. Unfortunately, it has to be said that the Assembly's proposals have not been followed up in practice. As far as the situation on the ground is concerned, the number of refugees and displaced persons is not diminishing, very few of them have been able to return home and the humanitarian situation remains very difficult. We are beginning to see a whole generation of people growing up in refugee centres.

 

6.This reports fits into the broader framework of the examination of the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). While specific problems are covered in separate reports such as this one or that on Ingushetia and North Ossetia (currently under preparation _ Rapporteur: Mr Gross, Switzerland), the general principles for the protection of these groups in the CIS region are set out in the report on refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the CIS (1997, Doc. 7829).

 

7.In order to gather the information needed for the preparation of this report, the committee decided to conduct a number of fact-finding visits. Accordingly, an ad hoc sub-committee comprising Mr Iwinski (Poland), Mr Din�er (Turkey), Mr Filimonov (Russia) and your rapporteur visited Azerbaijan from 25 to 27 February 1997. The committee subsequently set up another ad hoc sub-committee, made up of the same members, to visit Armenia from 14 to 16 April 1997. However, as Mr Filimonov and Mr Din�er were unable to take part, the visit to Armenia was conducted by Mr Iwinski, Ms Vermot-Mangold (Switzerland) and myself. Mr Iwinski chaired the two ad hoc sub-committees. In the case of Georgia, two representatives of the committee, Mr Atkinson and Mr Din�er, visited the country on the occasion of the meeting of the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries held in Tbilissi and Sukhumi from 22 to 26 March 1997. A fact-finding visit specifically devoted to the problems of the refugees and displaced persons in Georgia could perhaps be carried out at a later date.

 

8.Your rapporteur would like to thank the people the two sub-committees met during the various meetings and visits for their help, hospitality and the valuable information they gave, which has been most useful in the drafting of this report. She would like to extend particular thanks to the Parliaments of Armenia and Azerbaijan for the excellent organisation of the visits and for their kind hospitality.

 

II. Azerbaijan

1. Fact-finding visit by the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee on refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan (25-27 February 1997)

 

9.During the visit, the sub-committee visited the refugee centres in Kalagain, Nashyrly and Baku, and held a series of meetings and exchanges of views, in particular with:

 

2. Number and origin of the refugees and displaced persons

 

10.As a result of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the occupation of 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan by the Armenians and the anti-Azeri feelings in Armenia, the number of refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan stands at around 900,000 (out of a total population of 7.4 million). The refugees and displaced persons fall into the following categories (the figures are approximate, but have been confirmed by international humanitarian organisations):

 

3.    Humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced persons

 

11.The situation is very difficult in all respects, this applying equally to accommodation conditions, sanitary conditions, food supplies, medical care, education and employment opportunities - not to mention the almost total lack of social and cultural activities. Although the current arrangements are preventing people from dying of hunger or cold (which is a success in itself), the conditions are unacceptable in the medium and long term. While it is difficult to compare degrees of suffering, the humanitarian situation in Azerbaijan seems even more serious than that in the countries of former Yugoslavia.

 

12.As in the two other countries in Transcaucasia, the situation of the refugees and displaced persons is exacerbated by the general social and economic difficulties resulting from the break-up of the Soviet Union and the problems involved in the transition to a market economy. Between 1989 and 1994, for instance, gross domestic product fell by 50%, and a further drop of 17% followed in 1995. Great hopes have been placed in the exploitation of the country's oil reserves, but output levels are currently limited by outdated equipment and transport problems. Very rough estimates put the unemployment rate at 30%. Steep rises in food prices mean that not only refugees and displaced persons, but also other vulnerable sections of the population are having difficulty meeting their own basic needs.

 

13.Of the 700,000 displaced persons, 150,000 are living in government buildings, over 200,000 in hospitals, rest homes, hotels and dormitories, 150,000 with relatives or friends and 100,000 in refugee camps (in tents, mud huts and prefabricated units). Around 18,000 families are believed to be living in tents. Overall, refugees and displaced persons are to be found in 60 towns and villages throughout the country.

 

14.The sub-committee visited two camps, Kalagain and Nashyrly. In one of the camps, the inhabitants had been living in tents for five years, and in the other in mud-covered huts. They depend almost entirely on international humanitarian aid. Kalagain and Nashyrly are among the seven camps (10,000 families or 43,000 people) run entirely by the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which organises almost all aspects of life there, viz the supply and distribution of provisions (the monthly rations per person being, for example, 5 kg of flour, 1 kg of oil, 250 g of tea, 250 g of detergent, with 300 litres of paraffin per family), medical care (there are doctors in all the camps run by the federation) and education (in most cases, there are makeshift schools in the camps themselves), etc. Despite the extreme poverty in the camps, it should be pointed out that there are no problems with crime or prostitution.

 

15.Since the beginning of the crisis at the start of the nineties, conditions in the refugee centres have improved slightly: in many cases, tents have been replaced by more solid structures or mud-covered huts, and sanitary facilities have been installed, etc. However, the situation is far from acceptable.

 

16.In the building used to house displaced persons in Baku, living conditions were also difficult, but much better than in the camps in the countryside. Old government offices have been converted into "flats", which are heated and have electricity. Electricity, heating and water are paid for by the government, and the inhabitants do not pay any rent. The presence of refugees and displaced persons sometimes leads to friction with the local population. In Baku, for instance, people who had been on waiting lists for housing for fifteen years have missed their turn, as all available housing, in whatever stage of construction, has been used to accommodate the newcomers.

 

17.The most difficult situation is faced by those who, for various reasons, are not in the refugee centres and are living in the open countryside. Most of this group live in makeshift huts, in burrow-like structures (zemljanka) or in disused railway carriages. They have very little chance of receiving medical care or education. Around 850 families fall into this category.

 

18.The most serious problem affecting the refugees and displaced persons is unemployment. The UNHCR estimates that only 10% of them are in stable employment. When seasonal and casual work are also taken into account, the proportion in work at least some of the time is 30%. Most of the refugees and displaced persons therefore have to live off humanitarian aid and meagre pensions, invalidity benefits or child benefit, etc.

 

19.In the circumstances, the syndrome of dependence on outside aid is a serious problem. In some refugee centres, agricultural co-operatives or small craft training workshops have been set up, one example being sewing workshops. One of the centres visited had a sewing workshop with six sewing machines, where women received four to six months' training. The clothes produced were sold in the camp. However, when their training is completed, it is difficult for the women to apply the skills they have learned, as they have neither the equipment needed (sewing machines in this case) nor the capital for setting up small businesses.

 

4.    Refugees and displaced persons: different policies regarding long-term solutions

 

20.Attention should be drawn here to the difference in the approach adopted by the Azerbaijan government towards the refugees (mainly from Armenia) on the one hand, and the displaced persons (from the regions under occupation) on the other.

 

21.In the case of the refugees from Armenia, the government's declared objective is integration, as it does not envisage their returning to Armenia. In this connection, it should be noted that Azerbaijan in 1992 acceded to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.

 

22.On the other hand, the government does not advocate integration for either the Meshketian Turks, who are to return to Georgia as soon as possible, or the displaced Azerbaijanis. Emphasis is placed on their repatriation or return, which means that the government is not attempting to make any lasting improvements in the living conditions of the displaced persons where they are now, as their stay is, by definition, limited. Some international observers believe that the government deliberately places the reception centres in relatively isolated locations so as to make integration into the local community and the labour market more difficult. In addition, for some years now, the displaced persons have not been allowed to settle in Baku (although this can also be explained by the large number of refugees and displaced persons already in the town, whose capacity is limited).

 

23.Your rapporteur understands the government's emphasis on repatriation. The committee itself has frequently stressed that the voluntary return of such persons is the best long-term solution in most cases. In addition, all the people whom the sub-committee met in the centres visited wanted to return to their own homes as quickly as possible (even though their houses and public buildings and infrastructures have been destroyed or damaged, and despite the presence of mines, which are thought to number over half a million). Nevertheless, they should not under any circumstances be exploited for political purposes and they must be allowed the freedom to choose their place of residence in Azerbaijan in accordance with Article 12 of the 1966 United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

III. Armenia

1.    Fact-finding visit by the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee on refugees and displaced persons in Armenia (14-16 April 1997)

 

24.During the visit, the sub-committee visited communal refugee centres in Yerevan (Massive of Nork) and in the province of Kotayk, and held various discussions, in particular with:

 

2.    Number and origin of the refugees and displaced persons

 

25.Between 1988 and 1993, 300,000 to 350,000 ethnic Armenians left Azerbaijan because of the anti-Armenian feelings in the country and moved to Armenia. Many also emigrated to other countries in the CIS, in particular Russia. At present, 300,000 people are registered as refugees with the Ministry for Social Security, a significant figure when compared with the country's total population of approximately 3.7 million. It is also estimated that around 800,000 people (refugees or otherwise) have left Armenia in recent years.

 

26.At the same time, around 72,000 people have been displaced within Armenia itself, mainly from regions near the border with Azerbaijan which have been subject to bombardment. A further 100,000 or so people displaced by the earthquake in 1988 are still living under makeshift conditions.

 

3.    Humanitarian situation

 

27.Broadly speaking, the refugees form the poorest section of Armenian society. The sub-committee visited several communal refugee centres (in a student residence and an athletes' residence), as well as refugees living in converted containers.

 

28.The refugees' life in general is very difficult, as is that of tens of thousands of other citizens in Armenia. Nevertheless, particular attention should be drawn to the following specific problems:

  1. Accommodation is the most serious problem. When they arrived, the refugees found whatever accommodation they could (with friends or relatives, in rest homes, hotels, clinics or student residences, etc). Unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia has no refugee camps. However, the 50,000 people or so (15,000 families) in certain communal refugee centres are almost completely destitute. Crowded together in groups of two to six to a room, they live in deplorable sanitary conditions (often with no showers), and have no privacy. Many of the centres concerned are damp, dingy and dilapidated, and some have no electricity. The accommodation crisis is also causing other related problems. For instance, as long as the refugees remain in hotels, rest homes and student residences, etc, these buildings cannot be used for their original purpose, which in itself undermines the economic development of the country. As was the case in Baku, the 300,000 or so people who had been on housing waiting lists before 1988 are unlikely ever to get new accommodation, as all new housing has been occupied by the refugees and displaced persons.

  2. Most of the refugees from Azerbaijan were town dwellers. Given the lack of housing capacity in towns and cities, especially in Yerevan, many of them have found themselves living in rural areas, to which they take badly. As in many other capitals in the CIS, people wishing to live in Yerevan must obtain a special residence permit ("propiska").

  3. Many families are unable to pay their electricity, water and heating bills. In some cases, their monthly incomes are only just large enough to cover their basic food needs.

  4. The majority of those living in communal refugee centres belong to the most vulnerable groups, eg elderly people or women with children.

 

29.As far as humanitarian aid is concerned, the government has decided to stop the aid programmes intended solely for the refugees in order to prevent the syndrome of dependence and to avoid their being given preferential treatment over the rest of the population. The refugees have been included in the overall system put in place to help the most vulnerable sections of the population in general (known as "PAROS" or the vulnerability assessment system). This system, which is based on vulnerability criteria such as family composition, disposable income and resources and place and conditions of residence, is used to calculate which households require humanitarian aid. It employs a scale of vulnerability ranging from 1 to 72 (72 for the most vulnerable households). At present, the criteria for humanitarian aid are met by approximately 400,000 people (92,620 households), whose vulnerability rating exceeds 38.83. 700,000 households (out of a total of 850,000 in Armenia) have applied to be registered under the system.

 

4.    Integration of the refugees

 

30.As the return of the refugees to Azerbaijan has been ruled out both by the Armenian authorities and by the refugees themselves, the Armenian government has decided that the refugees should have the right to be integrated as full citizens. The nationality act passed in November 1995 entitles the refugees to obtain Armenian nationality on request. The integration of the refugees is thus essentially an economic and social problem, whose solution depends on the recovery of the country as a whole.

 

31.This will be difficult. Unemployment is high (approximately 30% in real terms). In addition to the difficulties inherent in the transition to a market economy, the country is suffering from the break-up of the Soviet market, having lost both sales opportunities and access to supplies of raw materials, most of which used to come from Russia. At the same time, although the blockade imposed on Armenia by Iran and Turkey has eased to some extent, the country is still seriously isolated. The Armenian authorities pointed out, for instance, that Turkey does not allow humanitarian aid for Armenia to pass through its territory.

 

32.Even though integration is a satisfactory long-term solution, it is not without problems. First of all, many refugees are unwilling to give up their refugee status (although Armenia has not yet passed legislation on refugees, which is still under preparation, it has acceded to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol), fearing that they would no longer qualify for humanitarian aid. For this reason too, they are reluctant to apply for Armenian citizenship.

 

33.Some refugees have complained about human rights violations. There are, indeed, restrictions on their freedom to settle, and male refugees are often forced to join the army, which is contrary to international law, as - in legal terms - they are not citizens of Armenia and hold refugee status.

 

34.The question of travel documents for the refugees is another thorny issue, both in Armenia and in the two other republics in the region. This is because the former Soviet passports which most of the refugees hold are now expiring. It is therefore necessary to find a solution, for instance by issuing temporary travel documents to the persons concerned.

 

5.    Compensation

 

35.Compensation for property abandoned in Azerbaijan by the Armenian refugees is a subject often raised by the Armenian authorities. They maintain that, after deduction of the houses and flats which Armenians and Azerbaijanis have exchanged by mutual agreement, the Armenians left 45,000 houses and flats behind in Azerbaijan, whereas the Azerbaijanis left only 4,000 in Armenia. Moreover, Armenia claims to have paid 70 million roubles (in 1989) in compensation for abandoned property and not to have received any payment from Azerbaijan.

 

IV. Georgia

 

36.According to the UNHCR, Georgia at present has some 300,000 displaced persons, the vast majority of whom (approximately 280,000) came from Abkhazia as a result of the conflict there between Abkhazian forces and the Georgian authorities. The ceasefire in May 1994 put an end to the fighting and to the exodus of displaced persons. The latter's lives are no longer directly threatened by hunger or cold, but, as was the case in the two countries already discussed, their prolonged stay under difficult conditions is beginning to have a very serious impact on their physical and psychological wellbeing.

 

37.Between 50% and 70% of the displaced persons live in communal centres (hotels, homes, hospitals, holiday camps), while the remainder are living with friends or relatives. The overcrowding (5 to 10 people per room in many cases) of rooms that are becoming increasingly dilapidated, and the deterioration in sanitary conditions are combining to cause major health hazards. The displaced persons are thus having to cope with all the problems found in the communal centres described in the two sections above about Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 

38.Under the present circumstances, humanitarian aid remains a priority objective. Nevertheless, as the length of stay increases, the Georgian government - in co-operation with international humanitarian agencies - is attempting to move away from a system involving the direct distribution of humanitarian aid to the displaced persons towards an overall vulnerability assessment system similar to the "PAROS" system mentioned above. At the same time, emphasis is being placed on the gradual transition from humanitarian to development aid.

 

V. International aid

 

39.Several dozen international humanitarian organisations are providing aid for the refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia (in the form of food and other supplies, as well as medical and technical aid). It is estimated that around 35 organisations are operating in Azerbaijan and around 40 in Armenia. By way of example, international agencies are providing up to 95% of medicines and medical equipment in Azerbaijan and 75% in Armenia.

 

40.Much aid is provided by the UNHCR, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) (which sub-contracts activities to various humanitarian agencies), the World Food Programme, USAID and other bodies. In Azerbaijan in 1996, for instance, bilateral donors and international organisations provided aid worth a total of USD 78 million. In addition, 40 tonnes of food supplies worth around USD 30 million were distributed to the displaced persons and low-income families.

 

41.The humanitarian organisations are facing three major challenges. Firstly, in view of a tendency towards "donor fatigue", reflecting a fear that the status quo is set to continue and dependence on humanitarian aid will therefore persist, the level of aid is actually beginning to fall. For instance, since the end of last year, the 200,000 refugees and displaced persons in Baku and Sumgait (Azerbaijan) have not been receiving humanitarian aid. At the same time, funding is becoming more and more haphazard. The UNHCR almost had to stop its operations in Azerbaijan in 1996 for lack of funds and, at the time of the sub-committee's visit, funding for the UNHCR's programmes in 1997 was only guaranteed up to the month of May. In Armenia, the UNHCR currently only has 52% of the funds needed for carrying out its programmes in 1997 (worth a total of USD 3,580,000).

 

42.Secondly, it is necessary to avoid giving the refugees and displaced persons preferential treatment over the rest of the population. In countries like the Transcaucasian republics where large numbers of people live in poverty, refugees or displaced persons receiving humanitarian aid because of their situation may, in fact, be better off than some non-refugee sections of the population. It is therefore very important to include the latter category among the recipients of humanitarian aid in order to avoid generating hostility towards refugees and displaced persons. There are thus signs of a gradual move away from systems involving the distribution of aid to refugees and displaced persons and towards comprehensive aid schemes for all vulnerable members of the community, both refugees and non-refugees.

 

43.The third challenge is to avoid creating a syndrome of dependence. Your rapporteur recognises that humanitarian aid cannot go on forever. However, given the limited resources at the Transcaucasian republics' disposal, it is clear that they cannot meet the humanitarian needs of the refugees and displaced persons on their own. The donors must accept that this situation will continue for several years to come.

 

44.Any reductions in aid must therefore be subject to the following conditions:

 

45.The move from humanitarian aid towards development aid is furthest advanced in Armenia, given the particular circumstances in the country (the lack of refugee camps and the clearly defined policy of integration). The UNHCR is therefore planning to reduce its presence in the country and to concentrate on protection activities.

 

46.It should be noted that the work of the international organisations is not confined to humanitarian aid. The UNHCR and the IOM, in particular, assist with the drafting of legislation on refugees and migration and organise programmes for the development of human rights and democracy, as well as the operation of democratic institutions.

 

47.Your rapporteur would like to take this opportunity to thank the donors and the humanitarian organisations for their admirable efforts to help the refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia and, in particular, to pay tribute to the men and women of different nationalities who are working on the ground, without whom the situation would undoubtedly be even more dramatic. All the people we met were deeply grateful to the international community for these efforts.

 

VI. Repatriation

1.Political aspect

 

48.Integration is a long-term solution for only some of the refugees and displaced persons. For others, the long-term solution is repatriation to their former homes. This is particularly true of the 700,000 displaced persons in Azerbaijan and the 280,000 displaced persons in Georgia (from Abkhazia). In both cases, it has to be said clearly that the scale of the displacements is such that no satisfactory long-term solution can be found unless the persons concerned return to their original homes at the earliest opportunity.

 

49.As already stated, this report is humanitarian in purpose and other committees have been asked to make proposals aimed at finding a political solution to the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, as was the case in Resolution 1119 (1997), adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on 22 April 1997. Given the continued relevance of this text and the fact that there have been no particular developments in the meantime, your rapporteur wishes to endorse this appeal by the Assembly and to urge the countries concerned to implement it as quickly as possible.

 

50.With regard to the repatriation of the Meshketian Turks from Azerbaijan to Georgia, almost no progress has been made. The main reasons are the social and economic difficulties in Georgia, and the lack of accommodation and facilities for receiving these people. There would also appear to be uncertainty about where they should actually go in Georgia. Information from the UNHCR would suggest that Azerbaijan will have to continue to provide refuge for this group in the years ahead, and Europe and the international community will have to help it cope with this additional burden.

 

2.    Social and economic aspects and humanitarian aid

 

51.Recent experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina has shown again that, if the social and economic conditions are not right, the large-scale return of refugees is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The scale of the reconstruction work required is enormous. According to the Azerbaijan authorities, for instance, in the regions of Azerbaijan controlled by the Armenians, 700 settlements, including ten towns, have been destroyed, as have thousands of public buildings such as schools, hospitals, community centres, libraries, cinemas and museums. Moreover, there are over half a million anti-personnel mines scattered throughout the region.

 

52.Europe and the wider international community should not therefore set the achievement of a political settlement as their sole objective. As in the case of former Yugoslavia, a political settlement must be accompanied by practical economic assistance (although the results in former Yugoslavia have not been as rapid as had been hoped for). Current and potential donors, in particular the European Union and the World Bank, should step up work on projects aimed at the economic reconstruction of the regions of Azerbaijan and Georgia which are to receive returnees. Such projects should be discussed at an international donor conference to be held as soon as possible after the conclusion of a political agreement.

 

53.The World Bank has provided USD 50 million for reconstruction work in the area of Azerbaijan which has already returned to Azerbaijan control. The work is due to start shortly in the Fizuli region under the responsibility of the Azerbaijan committee for the reconstruction of the recovered territories (the UNHCR estimates that approximately 45 000 people have returned there with its assistance and that of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)).

 

VII. Social Development Fund

 

54.For its part, the Council of Europe must do its utmost to exploit the potential of the Social Development Fund, whose priority objective is, after all, "to help in solving the social problems with which European countries are or may be faced as a result of the presence of refugees (...) or other forced movements of population". I would suggest that the Fund set up a task force on Transcaucasia, to examine what possibilities it has for action as a matter of urgency. To enable the Fund to take worthwhile action, the member states of the Council of Europe must increase their voluntary contributions to the Fund's Selective Trust Account, which can be used to grant subsidised or even zero-interest loans.

 

55.The experience which the Social Development Fund has acquired in the course of its activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina should be turned to good account and built on in Transcaucasia. In 1996, the Fund approved two projects for Bosnia, even though the country _ like Azerbaijan and the two other Transcaucasian republics _ is not a member of either the Fund or the Council of Europe.

 

VIII. Regional conference on refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and repatriation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (Geneva, May 1996)

 

56.The situation of the refugees and displaced persons in the Transcaucasian republics was analysed in depth during the preparations for the above conference. The participants at the conference itself adopted an action programme setting out the institutional and operational framework for action in this area. Two other papers were also presented at the conference (one concerning a strategy for joint UNHCR-IOM operations in the CIS for the period 1996-2000, and the other the priorities for the CIS countries), laying down the general outlines for the practical programmes to be implemented. As it was not the aim of the conference to raise funds for carrying out the programmes, the issue of funding was left to the follow-up phase.

 

57.Unfortunately, the sub-committee's discussions with the UNHCR representatives in the region revealed that, for the time being, there are not enough funds to implement the programmes decided at the Geneva conference. Indeed, the level of funds is falling!

 

58.In the circumstances, your rapporteur would like to remind European states and, in particular, those which took part in the above conference and voted for the adoption of the action programme, of their responsibility regarding its implementation. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should use its political weight to alert the member states to the need to provide funds to help the CIS countries - especially those most seriously affected, such as the Transcaucasian republics - to deal with the problems of refugees and displaced persons.

 

IX. Conclusion

 

59.The humanitarian problems described above are so great that all states based on respect for human rights have a duty to help solve them, within the limits of their ability and resources. However, in addition to the efforts which we must make for humanitarian reasons, the need to find a quick and satisfactory solution to the problem of refugees and displaced persons is also of overriding importance for peace and security in the Caucasus region. I therefore hope that the Committee of Ministers and the member states of the Council of Europe will follow the recommendations made in this report.

 

Appendix

Map of Transcaucasia

 


Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

Origin: Doc. 7775 and Reference No. 2175 of 19 March 1997.

Draft recommendation and draft order unanimously adopted by the committee on 21 May 1997.

Members of the committee: Mrs Aguiar (Chairperson), MM. Iwinski, Junghanns (Vice-Chairmen), A�ba, Mrs Aguilar (Alternate: Mrs Guirado), MM. Akselsen, Amoruso, Andres, �rnason, Mrs Arnold, MM. Aushev, Beaufays, Billing, Bogomolov, van den Bos, Brancati (Alternate: Brunetti), Branger, Mrs Brasseur, MM. Brennan, Caceres (Alternate: Diaz de Mera), Cardona, Christodoulides, Chyzh, Clerfayt, Din�er, Ehrmann, Mrs Fehr, MM. Filimonov, Fuhrmann (Alternate: Mrs Karlsson), Mrs Garajov�, MM. Godo, Gotzev, Gross, Sir John Hunt, Mrs Johansson, MM. Kalus, Karas, Lord Kirkhill, Mr Kukk, Mrs Kusnere, MM. Laakso, Lauricella, Laurinkus, L�z�rescu, Leitner, Lesein, Liapis, Loutfi, Lu�s, McNamara, M�sz�ros, Micheloyiannis (Alternate: Korakas, Vice-Chairman), Moser, Nogalo (Alternate: Mrs Busic), Mrs Plechat�, MM. Rakhansky (Alternate: Dron), von Schmude, Sincai, Skolc, Solonari, Mrs Soutendijk-van Appeldoorn, Mr Vangelov.

N.B.The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Newman, Mr Sich and Mrs Nachilo.


Note: 1By the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.


Note: 2    According to the Azerbaijan authorities.