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 NK.
To date, 13 UN agencies, 22 international NGOs, 13 national NGOs, 2 intergovernmental organizations, 5 Government entities, and 1 international organizations are part of the coordination structure and engage across 5 operational working groups (Shelter & NFI, Protection, Food Security & Nutrition, Health, Early Recovery) and 3 sub-working groups (Child Protection,
Education, Cash). Two Working Groups (WG) are co-led by NGO partners.
Under the leadership of UNHCR and the Resident Coordinator Office in Armenia, the Inter-Agency Response Plan 2020-2021 to address the broader humanitarian consequences of the NK crisis has been finalized and launched on 22nd of January with Government and the local donor community. This countryspecific plan covers a period of nine months (from October 2020 until end of June 2021), and will serve as a coordination, advocacy and resource mobilization tool. It brings together 36 operational partners involved in the response plan with over 180 projects in total and total financial requirements amounting USD 62,7M for the whole period.
Priority needs remain unchanged compared to the previous reporting period, especially in light of the winter, and continue to include cash for winterization, as well as increasing needs-based, predictable and long-term support to those families, who will be unable to return both in the short- and long-term. At the same time, cash for food and non-food items should be embedded in future Government interventions together with support to host families.
Monitoring of returns and assessments of return intentions have shown that most of the refugee-like population will remain in Armenia for the winter months with 63% not willing to go back home or declaring that they do not know.
The daily monitoring of returns from Yerevan (Kilikia bus station) to Nagorno-Karabakh continues. To date, it is estimated that some 24,000 individuals having returned as of 20th January 2021. However, the nature and sustainability of these returns are yet to be determined, as many of the interviewees at the point of departure have declared it was not their first trip to NK.
Security, access to livelihoods, repairs to housing, and restoration of infrastructure were cited as main conditions that need to be in place for returns.
On 27 September 2020, heavy clashes 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. The six weeks of conflict resulted in significant civilian casualties and the destruction of many houses and public infrastructure in the NK conflict zone, including schools, roads and communication networks. As a result, at the peak of the crisis, it is estimated that the majority of the population living in NK had fled to Armenia.
According to the Armenian Migration Service, some 90,640 persons1 are in a refugee-like situation in Armenia, spread across the ten regions of the country,2 and Yerevan. The vast majority (around 88 percent) are women and children.3 At the same time, various reports indicate that some 20,000 individuals have returned to NK since mid-November, but the nature and sustainability of these returns are yet to be determined. While the ceasefire agreement is currently holding, concerns have emerged due to reports of punctual incidents, which could affect the willingness of the population from NK to return. Due to the current winter weather, severely damaged infrastructure and concerns over security in NK, the majority of the refugee-like population in Armenia will likely opt to remain in Armenia for the coming months. This is corroborated by preliminary intention surveys showing that 70 per cent of arrivals to Armenia from NK have no intention to return for now or remain unsure if they will return.
The conflict aggravated an already fragile socioeconomic situation in Armenia, also compounded by the impact of COVID19. This has left the refugee-like population with very few prospects for employment and livelihood opportunities and has further stretched the limited resources in the cities and localities where they have settled.
The Government of Armenia (GoA), at both national and local levels, has responded to the needs of new arrivals, providing critical support since the onset of the emergency. Host communities warmly welcomed the refugee-like population from NK, sharing their accommodation, food and available resources. The Government provided some communal shelters for the new arrivals and has recently been rolling out several cash assistance programmes for the affected population.
According to various needs assessments and the protection monitoring, the refugee-like population reports feeling safe and secure in the host community and is not experiencing challenges related to social cohesion. However, they indicate the longer-term concern of becoming an economic burden on their hosts, due to the unknown duration of their stay in Armenia, which they perceive may result in a decreasing willingness of receiving communities to host them, if adequate support is not provided.
The impact of the conflict on host communities and refugee-like populations, includes physical, social, mental and financial aspects, and is adding pressure on institutions and their capacities to quantify, 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 NK.
Key findings from the different need assessments and from the protection monitoring exercise, held respectively in October, and continuously since November 2020, indicated that the most immediate needs of the refugee-like population are related to shelter and housing solutions, cash assistance, access to employment, food assistance, clothing and housing items, especially with the harsh winter months having already started. These findings also show urgent needs in the area of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS); 86% of the spontaneous arrivals so far have declared that they are facing some form of stress, mainly linked to the conflict, but also the loss of hope for the future, loss of property and livelihood.