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. The conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan had already generated more than half a million displaced people, with the number rapidly expanding as the hostility escalated. The period of 1992-1994 saw the peak of displacement, as the number of people seeking safety hit one million, while the total population of the country was only 7.2 million.
Along with emergency relief assistance, UNHCR implemented large scale shelter, education, healthcare, nutrition, water supply, sanitation and income generation programmes over a ten year period of direct assistance in partnership with other UN agencies. As the country experienced remarkable economic growth from the mid-2000s and the Government significantly increased investment in addressing the needs of the displaced population, UNHCR gradually reduced its direct relief assistance by reorienting its operations towards legal counselling, small scale self-reliance projects, monitoring and advocacy.
UNHCR organizes training and other capacity enhancement activities for government officials, law enforcement agencies and members of the Judiciary in order to facilitate the development of well-organized coordination mechanisms to respond effectively and in line with international recognized standards to asylum, mixed-migration and border management challenges. In accordance with its global mandate, UNHCR carries out activities for the prevention and reduction of statelessness, including the provision of direct individual assistance to persons in relation to naturalization processes. Some commendable milestones in Azerbaijan in relation to the prevention of statelessness are the naturalization of some 250,000 individuals from Armenia, 50,000 Mesketian Turks from Central Asia and 7,000 persons of Iranian origin in 1998.
UNHCR has been working closely with a wide range of Government counterparts, UN agencies and NGO partners to protect and identify longer term durable solutions to the plight of asylum-seekers and refugees entering Azerbaijan fleeing wars, conflicts and persecution. Since the late 1990s UNHCR has been providing international protection and material support to refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The numbers have gradually been reduced from a high of 12,000 in 1999 to 1,417 persons of concern in 2017. In dialogue with the Government, UNHCR has been exploring livelihoods activities aimed at assisting refugee families in developing coping mechanisms to address their basic needs and facilitate durable solutions.
UNHCR has been able to facilitate the delivery of non-food items from the US based Lutheran World Relief (LWR) in 1997-2011 and vision aid from the Japanese Fuji Optical Company (2005-2017).
Starting in 2010, UNHCR has supported the tertiary education of over 20 refugee students within the DAFI Scholarship Programme funded by the German Federal Government. UNHCR’s Refugee Women and Youth Centre located in Baku, provides an opportunity for refugees to socialize as well as to enhance their skills through various educational training programmes. Furthermore, UNHCR is involved in activities towards the prevention of and response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), as well as raising awareness on gender equality to promote empowerment of women and girls.
UNHCR’s current interventions with internally displaced persons (IDPs) focus on needs assessments, awareness raising and advocacy for their rights, including the right to return home voluntarily. To ensure that IDPs’ rights are protected within the national legislation and in compliance with the international protection standards, UNHCR provides free legal counselling and assistance to IDPs. The total number of IDPs in Azerbaijan was 613,129 at the end of 2016, out of whom 10,805 directly benefitted of UNHCR implemented or funded programs in 2016.
UNHCR will maintain its activities of support to the Government of Azerbaijan in assisting and protecting internally displaced people, including by facilitating their return home once a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is found. UNHCR will also continue to advocate with the Government of Azerbaijan for the establishment of an inclusive and rights-based asylum system, which will allow refugees to find safety and successfully integrate in the country.
Global website: www.unhcr.org