Refugee Life No Holiday in Azerbaijan

Years after Karabakh war, Azeri government creates housing for priority groups of refugees, but others will have to wait.

Refugee Life No Holiday in Azerbaijan

Years after Karabakh war, Azeri government creates housing for priority groups of refugees, but others will have to wait.

At one time, Gozel Suleymanova would have jumped at the chance of a stay in the Guneshli holiday camp in northwestern Azerbaijan, with its fine summer weather and its view of the water.

Now, however, the 62-year-old has spent the past 17 years at the resort, converted into a refugee camp to house people displaced by the war in Nagorny Karabakh. And like the 248 other residents, she is desperate to leave the makeshift accommodation.

“We’ve been living here since 1993,” Suleymanova said. “Our families have grown up and settled here. A third generation is now growing up, and we’re still suffering. We don’t have even the basics here. We lost our homes and property, and it won’t be long before our health goes too.”

Sixteen years after the war ended in a ceasefire, Azerbaijan has yet to provide adequate housing for all of the hundreds of thousands of refugees driven from homes in and around Karabakh.

Suleymanova said the camp’s residents originally came from the Aghdam, Lachin, Kelbajar and Zangilan districts and the town of Shusha, areas now controlled by Armenian forces, and had all but given up on seeing their homes again.

Zaur Khanmammadov, a 46-year-old originally from Zangilan, described the poor conditions at the camp, on the shores of the Mingachevir reservoir, 300 kilometres west of the Azerbaijani capital Baku.

“There are no facilities in the cabins and housing blocks. There were common toilets, but they broke long ago. People have had to build in their yards, but all the filth, sewage and rubbish goes into the reservoir from which we get our water. When the mains water goes off, we bring it from the reservoir in barrels. For drinking water, we go into town, which costs extra money that we don’t have.”

Khanmammadov said bus services had been curtailed so that they stopped at one in the afternoon and did not run at all at weekends. This made life especially hard for those who had jobs elsewhere, as taxis were expensive.

The local authorities say they aware there are problems at the refugee camp, but insist there are more urgent priorities.

“The forcibly displaced people from occupied areas who are now living at the Guneshli tourist site are not going to be resettled in the near future,” Mayil Huseynov, who heads the refugee department at Mingechevir’s town administration, said.

Huseynov said the top priority at the moment was moving refugees out of student hostels and school buildings. There were around 400 families living at 13 schools in the area, he said.

According to Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Refugee Affairs, 47 suburban developments complete with schools and hospitals have been built especially for refugees since 2004, and are now home to some 70,000.

A billion-dollar government programme targeting 220,000 people in total has prioritised the 6,200 families living in cabins, 2,800 housed in schools and 1,500 on army bases. These groups should be rehoused by the end of next year.

Suleymanova and the other residents of the Guneshli camp do not fall into these categories, so they cannot expect to be moved any time soon.

Rights groups say these refugees, too, deserve a speedier solution.

Azer Allahveranov, head of the Eurasian Platform for Civil Initiatives, a pressure group that monitors and evaluates humanitarian programmes, told IWPR, “First of all, people living in tents were housed, so that’s been resolved. Now the process of resettling people from schools and hostels has begun, and that will go on into 2011. The forcibly displaced people living in sanatoria and holiday camps are likely to come next, starting after 2011.

“But that isn’t fair – these people shouldn’t have to wait years for a decent life. We need to speed up the resettlement process.”

Vafa Farajova is a correspondent for the online news agency.

Iran, Armenia
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