31 December 2013 |

Azerbaijan: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013

 

Around 597,000 people were officially registered as IDPs in Azerbaijan as of the end of 2013. The figure is made up of those who fled their homes between 1988 and 1994 as a result of armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, their children and around 54,000 people who have been able to return. The government justifies maintaining registration for returned IDPs by their proximity to the occupied areas. No new displacement was reported during the year.

In the continued absence of a solution to the conflict, Azerbaijan does not have effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding districts, and this has prevented the vast majority of IDPs from returning to their homes. More than 20 years into their displacement, most are still waiting to return while not having fully integrated at their current residence. There have been no assessments on the extent to which progress towards durable solutions has been made.

IDPs are present in all of the country's 69 districts, but around half live in the capital Baku. Around 32 per cent still live in public buildings offered as temporary accommodation at the beginning of their displacement. Around 25 per cent live in new housing the government has provided, 20 per cent with relatives and 12 per cent in makeshift housing. Around eight per cent occupy other peoples’ property. Some were evicted to make way for urban development projects and report that they were not consulted on relocation programmes and housing policies that affect them.

Over time, conditions in public buildings such as former university dormitories and kindergartens have become crowded and unsanitary with plumbing, sanitation and electricity in disrepair. A number of fires destroyed some IDPs’ housing during 2013. Others demanded improved living conditions, with one person even resorting to self-immolation. IDPs living in makeshift housing on the outskirts of cities also endured substandard conditions, but they have not been included in the government’s housing programme.

Despite a significant improvement in IDPs’ poverty levels over the years, more than 70 per cent remain dependent on state benefits as their main source of income. Benefits include a monthly allowance of around $23 paid to people registered as internally displaced and other social assistance for vulnerable groups. High unemployment among IDPs has led to families separating for labour migration, early marriages for girls and the marginalisation of women from economic and social life.

The government has spent an unprecedented $5.4 billion on IDPs since 2001. It has settled more than 180,000 IDPs and refugees in newly built homes as part of a national programme launched in 2004. More than 28,000 were relocated in 2013, including to six new residential complexes. Most settlements included new schools, and medical and community centres. IDPs also continued to benefit from positive discrimination measures such as exemption from utility payments, free university tuition and preferential access to jobs.

Government policy towards IDPs remains centred around the idea that displacement is temporary until return to Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding districts becomes possible. Return is viewed as the only sustainable settlement option, and the support provided in the meantime is not intended to resolve displacement. As a result, new homes are offered only until return is possible, IDPs can only vote and stand for election in their municipalities of origin, and around 60 per cent of IDPs’ children continued to be educated separately from the rest of the population.

During the year, several UN human rights bodies reported on IDPs’ situation and urged the government to do more to meet its international obligations. The EU's special representative on the South Caucasus visited Azerbaijan in 2013 and continued to press for confidence-building measures that would help resolve the conflict.

In 2013, UNHCR undertook its largest assessment of IDPs in the country to date. IDPs told the agency that their priorities were improved living conditions, economic and social self-reliance, good quality education and health care, inclusion in decision-making and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. These priorities were fed into the UN-facilitated national consultations on the post-2015 sustainable development framework. The findings of UNHCR’s assessment should be shared among humanitarians, development and peace building organisations and planning should be coordinated to ensure IDPs are included in all projects relevant to their priorities.