The UN system in Armenia continues to operate with a coordination structure put in place under the lead of the Resident Coordinator’s Office and UNHCR to coordinate humanitarian efforts and maximize the efficiency of the response in Armenia to the crisis in Nagorno Karabakh (NK).
To date, 13 UN agencies, 22 international NGOs, 13 national NGOs, 2 intergovernmental organizations, 5 Government entities, and 1 international organization are part of the coordination structure and engage across five operational working groups (Shelter & NFI, Protection, Food Security & Nutrition, Health, Early Recovery) and three sub-working groups (Child Protection, Education, Cash). Two Working Groups (WG) are co-led by NGO partners.
Daily monitoring of people departing from Yerevan to Stepanakert is ongoing since 14 November 2020. More than 60 key informant interviews were conducted at the departure point in Yerevan. According to UNHCR’s departure monitoring as of 28th February 2021, an estimate 24,267 individuals travelled to NK since mid-November, but the nature and sustainability of these returns are yet to be determined. The return monitoring has identified certain gaps in the way returns are organized, in particular lack of boarding priority and due considerations for persons with specific needs, absence of safety and security measures (presence of the police and ambulance), and COVID-19 preventive measures, which are not promoted and followed.
A Government decree on recurrent cash support for persons in refugee-like situation was approved on 18 February 2021. It included clarification of specific clauses that facilitate support by national and international partners and individuals. For details, refer to Cash-Sub Working Group section of the report.
Emergency support activities to ensure continuity of education for refugee-like population continued. In addition, UNICEF-ARCS completed the Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) project and plans are underway to scale up the intervention through CERF funding, reaching some 5,000 beneficiaries. See Education Sub-Working Group section for details.
A FAO designed programme targets 600 households in the provinces of Gegharkunik and Syunik with support for existing poultry and livestock preserve means of local food production.
On 27 September 2020, hostilities broke out along the line of contact (LoC) and quickly expanded to other areas in and around Nagorno Karabakh (NK), until a nine-point ceasefire agreement was signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Federation of Russia during the night of 9-10 November. Six weeks of conflict resulted in significant civilian casualties and destruction of many houses and public infrastructure in the NK conflict zone, including schools, roads and communication networks. As a result, it is estimated that at the peak of the crisis the majority of the population living in and around NK had fled to Armenia.
The ceasefire agreement is currently holding with no confirmed incidents being reported from the LoC. Despite the presence of several checkpoints, movement between Armenia and NK is relatively unrestricted, with Government of Armenia providing free bus service to the refugee-like population. As the winter season draws to an end and given the relative calm in many areas of NK, the number of refugee-like population returning remains steady. On average, a couple of buses departed from Yerevan to NK in February.
According to the Armenian authorities’ figures released on 17 February, some 68,050 persons1 are still in a refugee-like situation in Armenia, of which 85 percent are women and children. They live across all ten marzes/regions of the country2 and Yerevan. Number of individuals directly observed boarding buses for NK stands at 22,634 individuals3 , but nature and sustainability of those who have traveled to NK are yet to be determined. Most of the returnees originated from Stepanakert, followed by Martuni and Askeran in NK. The vast majority of individuals observed boarding on the buses for Stepanakert in Yerevan were adult females (approximately 80 percent), while children only accounted for 10 percent of those who returned.
The impact of the conflict on host communities and refugee-like populations, includes physical, social, mental and financial aspects, and is adding pressure on Government institutions and their capacities to coordinate, finance and address essential needs. Host community households that had previously been socioeconomically stable may face significant challenges in covering the cost of rent and utilities and providing food as a result of hosting refugee-like families from in and around NK. For the first time a few incidents of friction between host community and refugee-like population was reported in February, but generally, the social cohesion between the refugee-like population and the host community continued to be warm, with latter continuing to share their accommodation, food and available resources.
Despite the fragile socioeconomic situation that has been compounded by the impact of COVID-19, the Government of Armenia (GoA), both at national and local levels, continued to respond to the needs of new arrivals, providing critical support. Among others, support from the host government included provision of communal shelters, health services and cash assistance programmes. During the reporting period an increase in active participation of ministerial representatives in the various Working and Sub-Working groups was widely observed.
Key findings from the different need assessments and from the protection monitoring exercise, conducted since the begin of the crisis, indicate that the most immediate needs of the refugee-like population are related to shelter and housing solutions and cash assistance. Between December 2020 and February 2021, the affected population have also reprioritized their needs, for instance, in February, refugee-like population prioritized basic needs items over employment (see figure 1). Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) are other areas that require increased and sustained attention, as many have been traumatized by the aftereffects of conflict, displacement, COVID-19, and loss of livelihoods.