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, until a nine-point ceasefire agreement was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan 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 Nagorno-Karabakh 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 Nagorno-Karabakh had fled to Armenia.
According to the Armenian Migration Service, some 90,000 persons are in a refugee-like situation in Armenia, spread across the ten regions of the country1, and Yerevan. The vast majority among them (around 88 percent) are women and children2. At the same time, various reports indicate that between 20,000 to 50,000 individuals have returned to Nagorno-Karabakh 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 Nagorno-Karabakh to return. Due to the current winter weather, severely damaged infrastructure and concerns over security in Nagorno-Karabakh, the majority of the refugeelike 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 Nagorno-Karabakh have no intention to return for now or remain unsure.
Returns are therefore expected to take place in a phased manner, pending improvement of security and living conditions with an increase expected in the spring. A residual number of people, estimated at 35,000, will be either unable or unwilling to return and will remain in Armenia for the foreseeable future.
The conflict aggravated an already fragile socioeconomic situation in Armenia, also compounded by the impact of COVID-19. 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, at both the national and local levels, has responded to the needs of new arrivals, providing some critical support since the onset of the emergency. Host communities warmly welcomed the refugee-like population from Nagorno-Karabakh, 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 monitoring exercises, 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 understand, 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 Nagorno-Karabakh.