The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, established its presence in Azerbaijan in December 1992 as part of UNHCR’s first emergency assistance operation in the former Soviet Union. According to government estimates, by 1994 the conflict with Armenia in and around the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh generated one million displaced people.
These included several hundreds of thousands Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts, plus some 250,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis displaced from Armenia and 50,000 Meskhetian Turks from Central Asia. The latter two groups of people were commendably were granted with citizenship.
During the 1990s, along with emergency relief assistance, UNHCR implemented large-scale shelter, education, healthcare, water supply, sanitation and income generation programmes targeting mainly IDPs. UNHCR estimates that some 10,000 IDP families benefitted from its shelter assistance programs during that period.
As the Government of Azerbaijan started significantly increasing its investment in addressing the needs of IDPs in mid-2000, UNHCR gradually reduced its IDP programs and reoriented its operations towards legal counseling, monitoring, and advocacy for durable solutions. In parallel, it gave more emphasis to the protection and assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing persecution or generalised violence in third countries, who totaled 1,958 at the end of June 2019.
UNHCR’s overall strategy in Azerbaijan is to support the Government in protecting and finding durable solutions for refugees, IDPs and stateless persons in line with international standards. UNHCR’s approach is harmonised with the development efforts of other UN agencies as set out in the UNAPF (2016-2020).
UNHCR Azerbaijan aims to bring national refugee legislation and practice in line with international standards. The expected adoption of legislative amendments to introduce complementary protection will be key to secure legal status for all persons in need of international protection, the majority of whom currently are only “tolerated” because they are under UNHCR’s mandate.
UNHCR Azerbaijan pursues durable solutions for refugees primarily through supporting local integration initiatives. The aim is to ensure that refugees achieve self-sufficiency and full access to social, economic and cultural rights by mainstreaming them in national and local development programmes. While access to decent employment remains restricted for the majority of refugees, the Government has generously granted all refugees free access to primary and secondary education and primary health care. Meanwhile, UNHCR supports secondary and tertiary health care for refugees and asylum seekers.
UNHCR Azerbaijan works with the Government in preventing and reducing statelessness by ensuring that persons at risk of statelessness have access to citizenship documentation, assisting the government in measuring statelessness through the national population census.
Azerbaijan is a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol, the 1954 and 1961 Conventions on Statelessness.