Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

UNHCR Warns of Jobless Despair

Senior aid official says international community needs to improve skills of those displaced by war to improve their employment prospects.
The United Nations’ new representative for refugees in Azerbaijan has warned international donors that people still displaced by the Nagorny Karabakh conflict may lapse into despair if they do not receive more help in finding work.

The Karabakh conflict, which ended with a ceasefire 15 years ago, uprooted at least 800,000 Azeris and 500,000 Armenians. Most of the former fled to Azerbaijan while a majority of the latter escaped to Armenia with a minority settling in Karabakh itself. Azerbaijan and Armenia still have no diplomatic ties, while Karabakh itself is ruled by Armenians who have declared their own state.

“The challenge for the [displaced] is the anxiety and strong desire to go back to their places of origin. Among them, especially the most vulnerable, [are those who] need support and skills to engage themselves in gainful employment while living in settlements waiting for their return,” Arun Sala-Ngarm, the resident representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, told IWPR. “If people sit in their house doing very little, they become frustrated and agitated.”

He warned that those displaced by the fighting might lapse into despair if the international community does not help to improve their job prospects.

UNHCR in Azerbaijan distributes humanitarian support to 60,000 refugees in rural areas, and also runs legal clinics to make sure all those displaced by the fighting know their rights. Assistance is only provided to those Azeris displaced from Karabakh itself, and from the territory around Karabakh which is occupied by Armenians. Azeris who fled Armenia are now considered the same as normal citizens of Azerbaijan.

“They have been naturalised and have fully integrated in Azerbaijan. [But] for the [displaced] from Nagorny Karabakh, it is clear that they have the right to return to their places of the origin with safety and dignity,” said Sala-Ngarm.

Tentative moves towards a political solution to the frozen conflict have repeatedly come to naught. Armenia still occupies 14 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory, and shots are still regularly exchanged over the line of control. Nevertheless, Sala-Ngarm said UNHCR would be ready to help the displaced civilians to go home when a final peace deal was signed.

“People were forced out of their homes against their will. They have the right to voluntarily return to their homes when the opportunity arises,” he said.

“Whenever political solutions are found, UNHCR, with its experience and expertise, stands ready to work closely with the government and all stakeholders to facilitate their voluntary return."

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