Armenia + 3 more

CoE: Situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia


Doc. 9480
4 June 2002

Report
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography
Rapporteur: Mrs Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Switzerland, Socialist Group

Summary

Ten years after so-called ethnic conflicts that plagued the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union, still more than one million people remain displaced in the South Caucasus. Many of them live in refugee camps in dramatic conditions, in full dependence on insufficient humanitarian assistance with no prospects for the future.

Although it is clear that a final solution of the refugee situation, and in particular the possibility for the return to home areas, depends on a peace settlement of the various conflicts, certain issues of humanitarian nature should be resolved irrespective of political considerations.

I. Draft recommendation

1. The Assembly refers to its Recommendation 1263 (1995) and Resolution 1059 (1995) on the humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Recommendation 1305 (1996) on the humanitarian situation of the displaced persons in Georgia, and Recommendation 1335 (1997) on the refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia.

2. The Assembly is concerned by the fact that a decade after so-called ethnic conflicts that plagued the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union, still more than one million people remain displaced in the South Caucasus. Many of them live in refugee camps in dramatic conditions, in full dependence on insufficient humanitarian assistance with no prospects for the future.

3. Conflicts, in the beginning perceived as short-term, remain unsettled until today. In this context, the Assembly welcomes the efforts of Georgia to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Abkhazia. Although it is clear that a final solution of the refugee situation, and in particular the possibility for their return to home areas, depends on a peace settlement of the various conflicts, certain issues of humanitarian nature should be resolved irrespective of political considerations.

4. In particular, the Assembly stresses that under no circumstances, the displaced populations should be used as an argument for political aims. Durable solutions including integration for those who wish to integrate should be elaborated and implemented without further delay, in full co-operation with the international community.

5. In this respect, the Assembly notes with satisfaction some positive developments in national policies of the countries concerned. In particular, the New Approach in Georgia and the National Programme in Azerbaijan indicate the change in the attitude of the Georgian and Azeri Governments.

6. The Assembly is fully aware of the overall difficult economic situation in the three republics, and in particular of a high rate of unemployment which to a great extent concerns the local population as well. The Assembly recognises the need for foreign investments and assistance to revive national economies in the region.

7. In this context, the Assembly is concerned by the considerable reduction in international humanitarian aid as a result of "donor fatigue". While recognising that it is important to avoid creating dependence on international aid, it believes that the withdrawal should be harmonised with the replacement by development programmes aimed at promoting self-sufficiency among displaced and local vulnerable populations.

8. The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i. urge the member states of the Council of Europe:

a. to continue providing humanitarian aid to the countries in the region, and to ensure that it will not be phased out before it is replaced by development assistance;

b. to contribute generously to the funding of the programmes and projects relating to housing, education and job-creation for refugees and IDPs;

c. to give their financial and technical support as well as their expertise to the elaboration of vocational training schemes, in particular for women and young people;

d. to offer necessary expertise and man-power for de-mining of the region.

ii. urge the three republics concerned:

a. to continue their efforts aimed at peaceful settlements of the conflicts in the area with a view to return of all refugees and displaced persons who wish so to their places of origin;

b. to refrain from instrumental use of refugees and displaced persons for political aims;

c. to elaborate and implement, in cooperation with the international community, overall strategies for durable solutions;

d. to provide refugees and IDPs with comprehensive and clear information on their rights and choice between return and integration;

e. to provide every refugee with a possibility of integration, and to take measures facilitating this process;

f. to review domestic law with a view to amending all provisions which could jeopardise the process of integration;

g. to seek international funding for the implementation of concrete projects in the field of housing and income-generating activities for refugees and internally displaced;

h. to ensure transparency and exercise better control over the distribution of the international aid and medicaments.

iii. urge the Armenian authorities:

a. to facilitate access to land for IDPs and refugees;

b. to include displacement as a factor of vulnerability in the government-run vulnerability assessment system (PAROS) used to determine eligibility for payment of state family benefits;

c. to solicit international assistance, and to draw the attention of the Armenian Diaspora to the dramatic living conditions of refugees and IDPs;

d. to seek international assistance for the establishment of a special fund which would provide refugees and IDPs with basic health care and medicines.

iv. urge the Azeri authorities:

a. to improve living conditions of the displaced population in refugee camps;

b. to encourage and sponsor self-sufficiency of refugees by establishment of income-generating programmes;

c. to increase the involvement of relevant non-governmental organisations and representatives of refugees/IDPs in the elaboration of concrete projects.

v. urge the Georgian authorities:

a. to refrain from any hasty repatriation of the Chechen refugees before the security conditions in Chechnya allow for safe returns in dignity;

b. to grant the right to vote in national and local elections to the displaced Georgian citizens;

c. to ensure the access of the displaced population to land under the same conditions as the local population;

d. to adopt and implement the law on the return of Meshketian Turks in compliance with the commitment undertaken by Georgia upon its accession to the Council of Europe;

e. to enforce the property rights of potential returnees of Osset origin.

9. The Assembly further recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i. ensure the continuation of the involvement and commitment to the political dialogue and confidence building within and between the three republics;

ii. strengthen concrete programmes in the field of its competence;

iii. promote the long-term solutions in regard to refugees and displaced persons in the region;

iv. invite the Council of Europe Development Bank to respond in a positive way to the projects submitted by the three republics.

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Vermot-Mangold

1. Introduction

1. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has been following the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced population in the South Caucasus for a long time. It has initiated the adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of a number of texts relating to the subject, in particular Recommendation 1335 (1997) and Order No 533 (1997) on the situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia; Recommendation 1305 (1996) on the humanitarian situation of the displaced persons in Georgia; Recommendation 1263 (1995) and Resolution 1059 (1995) on the humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

2. The present report stems from Order No 533 (1997) which instructs the Committee to monitor the situation of the refugees and displaced persons in the region and report to the Assembly if necessary. It is based on the information gathered from a number of sources including fact-finding visits by the Rapporteur to the region (Azerbaijan, 13-16 May 2001; Armenia, 15-17 October 2001; Georgia, 26-30 March 2002, see Programmes for the visits, Appendices 1-3). Moreover, the Rapporteur used the conclusions of the parliamentary hearing on population displacement in the Caucasus held in Paris on 24 March 2000, and of the Conference on refugees and displaced persons in the South Caucasus organised by the Committee in co-operation with the Parliament of Azerbaijan in Baku on 17-19 May 2001 (AS/Mig (2001) 23). Finally, the report is based on updated information received from relevant non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations and associations.

3. The Committee has received and accepted the invitation from the Armenian Parliament to organize in Yerevan a follow up Conference on refugees and displaced persons in the South Caucasus. A part of this conference could be held in Tbilisi (Georgia). This event might take place in 2003 in order to allow for the evaluation of the progress made by the three countries concerned, and assessment of the state of implementation of recommendations which will be adopted by the Assembly following the presentation of the current report foreseen for June 2002 part-session.

4. The situation of refugees and displaced persons was closely examined during the accession procedure of the three countries [1]. Some commitments undertaken by the governments of the three republics on that occasion are closely linked to the subject. For example, in the case of Georgia the question of the repatriation of the Meshketian population was directly addressed in the Opinion adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly.[2]

5. It should be noted that a monitoring procedure in respect of the three countries concerned under Order No 508 (1995) on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe has been ongoing since respectively 1996 (Georgia) and 2000 (Armenia and Azerbaijan).

6. Moreover, the tri-parliamentary working group set up in the framework of the parliamentary co-operation of the South Caucasian countries under the aegis of the Parliamentary Assembly has been dealing with numerous questions some of them related to the subject of the present report (for example prisoners of war and refugees).

7. Certain questions related to the subject of the present report are examined by other committees. In particular, the Political Affairs Committee is preparing a report on the situation in Georgia and the entire Caucasus region (Rapporteur: Mrs Lörcher), and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is preparing a report on the political prisoners in Azerbaijan (Rapporteur: Mr Clerfayt). Moreover, two ad hoc sub-committees have been set up by the Monitoring Committee and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in order to follow the situation of political prisoners.

8. It is often difficult if not impossible to discuss the humanitarian situation without reference to the political context. However, the Rapporteur being aware of the work going on in the Political Affairs Committee and the Monitoring Committee does not intend to give a political analysis of the circumstances which have led to the mass displacement of the population seen in the region or to examine the political situation in the three countries concerned. However, sometimes it has proved to be impossible to entirely abstract from the political context when considering the present situation and prospects for possible durable solutions.

9. Finally, the Rapporteur would like to express her gratitude to the parliamentary delegations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia for their co-operation during the preparation of this report and in particular during the fact-finding visits.

2. General overview of the humanitarian situation in the region

10. After former Yugoslavia, the South Caucasus - comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - has, during the last decade, been the region of Europe most affected by the problems of refugees and displaced persons. Although it is difficult to give precise figures and statistics (see below), it may be indicated that in total more than one million people have been displaced in the region (out of this figure nearly 900 000 in Azerbaijan, over 150 000 in Armenia and over 250 000 in Georgia).

11. At the same time, hundreds of thousands more have left the region for other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), in particular Russia. This question is not examined in the present report. It will be dealt with in another report prepared by the Committee on the situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Russian Federation and other CIS countries (Rapporteur: Mr Iwiński, Poland, SOC).

12. A high number of displaced persons from the South Caucasus have left the CIS and live in third countries. This is particularly true for Armenia, which has lost approximately 18% of its population between 1988-1998. However, the present report is not dealing with this specific category of people.

13. The overwhelming majority of displaced persons and refugees are the result of the so-called ethnic conflicts that plagued the region after the collapse of the USSR, in particular the conflicts in Abkhazia[3], South Ossetia[4], and Nagorno Karabakh[5].

14. An unusual problem is that of the "Meskhetian Turks", earlier deported by Stalin to central Asia in the 1940s. Around 50 000 fled the Fergana valley in the late eighties and now live as refugees in Azerbaijan. Georgia has accepted in principle their right to return but has not yet taken tangible steps in this direction citing its own current refugee problem. This issue has been of particular concern to the Council of Europe which has made it a condition for Georgia's continued membership.[6]

15. The governments of the region, despite the huge economic and social problems they had to deal with over the last decade, have on the whole reacted promptly and humanely to the waves of refugees/IDPs as they arrived. In this they have been generously assisted by the international community which provided large-scale emergency assistance. Agencies such as UNHCR and the European Commission through the ECHO Programme organised large-scale distribution of food and helped with other needs for refugees/IDPs. The local governments recognise this and have on many occasions expressed appreciation.

16. Public buildings including schools as well as hotels and practically any other space that could accommodate the refugees was made available during the emergency stage in any of the three countries. In some cases this was done in an orderly manner, in other cases the refugees simply squatted and the authorities simply accepted the de facto situation.

17. In all three countries affected there is hardly a town or village that has not had to carry part of the burden. The influx of refugees/IDPs has been so large that in many ways the lives of host communities have been largely affected.

18. In each case, when the refugees and IDPs from the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh first arrived in the host countries, there was a widespread belief that the problems would be solved quickly and displaced people would be able to return. That was particularly true in Georgia and Azerbaijan, less in the case of Armenia where it was understood that a possible return would require some political compromise at the expense of the satisfactory (for the Armenians) present situation. That is the main reason why Armenia has favoured a policy of integration, whilst Georgia and Azerbaijan continue to insist on repatriation.

19. The attitude of the local population was initially very sympathetic to the refugees/IDPs. As time passed however, the mood has changed considerably. Refugees started being blamed for most ills from petty crime to dirtying the cities and of taking jobs and houses from local people. This is particularly prevalent in Tbilisi and Baku, the two historical urban centres of the Caucasus where the influx of refugees mainly from rural areas is looked upon with disdain. Although this negative attitude has so far not turned into any serious problem, tension is on a rise and it may create an unpredictable situation.

20. Both the local governments and the international community have failed to address the core causes of the problem: conflicts remain unsettled, the process of peaceful resolutions are in many cases stalled, and each new crisis adds another wave of refugees on already overstretched resources. What therefore started off as short-term crisis, properly and adequately managed, has now turned into long-term problems for which the response has not always been adequate.

21. Until recently, local governments, as well as in many cases refugees/IDPs themselves, have refused to think of the problem as a long-term one, preferring to support the more politically expedient, but quite unrealistic view that repatriation can take place quickly. Refugees have in a number of cases been used as tools for political manoeuvres and in some cases as shields for military activity. Many refugees in the meantime are caught in a vicious circle of dependence.

22. On the other hand there is some pressure from the international community on concrete results in terms of numbers of successfully repatriated or integrated refugees or displaced persons. This may lead to failed repatriation as in the case of Abkhazia, where approximately 60 000 returnees were obliged to leave the Gali region and became IDPs a second time after the outbreak of violence.

23. Integration in Armenia has also encountered certain difficulties. There has been a limited interest in applying for citizenship, the process of rehousing has encountered some difficulties and there has also been tension about the right of the Armenian military to conscript young refugees, and about the refugees' political rights, in particular the voting rights.

24. By now the three republics have established ministries or other specific structures that deal with refugee problems on a permanent basis and they have adopted relevant refugee/IDPs law. All refugees in the three countries are registered.

25. The Rapporteur notes with satisfaction that positive changes in attitude to the problem of displacement may be observed recently in particular in Georgia where the New Approach has been elaborated as well as in Azerbaijan where the elaboration of the National Programme on Settlement of the Problems of refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan allows for some optimism.

3. Situation in Armenia

26. The population of Armenia accounts for 3,5 million people.

27. According to government statistics, there are 192 000 internally displaced persons in Armenia. This figure covers displacement due to a variety of causes. Firstly, an estimated 72 000 persons were displaced as a result of military operations in areas bordering Azerbaijan due to the conflict regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. Though a 1994 ceasefire has basically been effective, the conflict remains without a political solution and there have been recurrent skirmishes and instances of shelling in border areas. Secondly, an estimated 100 000 persons continue to be displaced as a result of a devastating earthquake of 1988 which resulted in the death of over 25 000 people and rendered some 500 000 persons homeless. Thirdly, the remainder of the internally displaced (around 20 000) have been uprooted as a result of more recent natural disasters.

28. Furthermore, there are some 300 000 ethnic Armenian refugees who have fled to Armenia from Azerbaijan in 1988-92.

29. It should be noted that independent estimates of the number of the displaced persons due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are lower than the figure of 72 000 cited by the Government. For example, the US Committee for Refugees refers to the figure 60 000. This discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the Government includes in its figure the persons displaced into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh who should be considered as refugees. It should be noted that a number of refugees who came to Armenia during 1988-1992, who were initially settled in the border areas inside Armenia became displaced again, within Armenia, due to insecurity in these areas.

30. Refugees from Azerbaijan have been placed in different parts of Armenia. Some exchanged their houses with Azeris who have fled likewise from Armenia to Azerbaijan, some of them were placed in the abandoned houses/communities; and a considerable number was placed in the temporary dwellings such as student dormitories, hotels, communal centres. In general, the refugee population in Armenia has been scattered throughout the country. Many of them live in Yerevan city in temporary dwellings or "refugee communal centres".

31. According to government estimates, more than 40% of the housing in the border regions have been ruined during the armed conflict with Azerbaijan. Only a small number of houses have been reconstructed usually by the returnees. The local authorities had provided some reconstruction assistance in 1994 immediately after the introduction of the ceasefire when some people began to return, and especially to women heads of household. In the border areas, about 75% of the persons displaced as a result of the conflict live in pasture huts or other temporary dwellings.

32. Similarly, infrastructure and irrigation systems have suffered heavy destruction in these areas. The military actions have ruined 60% of the roads and a large part of administrative buildings, 50% of water supply and irrigation system.

33. The situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia differs from that in Azerbaijan and Georgia. There are no camps or other large concentrations of internally displaced persons who instead have largely been taken in by relatives or friends or settled in small groups in temporary accommodation. At present about 60% of refugees and displaced people live in so-called communal centres, others are housed with relatives and host families.

34. A large proportion of so-called communal centres are in a disastrous state and need urgent repair and rehabilitation. Some of those visited by the Rapporteur were almost inhabitable with appalling sanitation conditions.

35. The situation of refugees and displaced people in Armenia should be seen in the context of the humanitarian situation of the population as a whole. About 25% of cultivable land and about 40% of irrigated land are not utilised because of lack of equipment, seeds and irrigation systems, and also because of the threat from landmines. Livestock has decreased by more than 50% since the early 90s. 50% of industrial enterprises do not function. The economic collapse of Armenia has drastically degraded living conditions. A survey by the World Bank in 1996 showed that 55% of the population live in absolute poverty, including unemployment of 25%. Over 50% of the population cannot meet their basic food needs. Extreme poverty is even bigger in rural areas, in particular as an effect of the drought during the Summer 2000. Negative trends in food consumption patterns are translating into high rates of malnutrition among children. The economic crisis has deprived the medical system of the resources necessary to provide appropriate medical assistance to the population. Clearly, the most vulnerable groups including the refugees and displaced persons are most affected

36. Observers in Armenia agree that refugees and internally displaced persons have been given almost no specific attention by the State and by the international community. It has been generally assumed that the needs of these categories of people would be addressed through general programmes for vulnerable groups and for poverty alleviation. More focused attention, it was argued, would risk privileging the refugees and internally displaced people as compared with the rest of the population. At the same time, however, the general programmes have not adequately taken into account the particular needs of refugees and IDPs. For example, the government-run vulnerability assessment system's (PAROS) vulnerability index used to determine eligibility for payment of state family benefits does not include displacement as a factor of vulnerability

37. The local integration remains the most durable solution for refugees, as the prospects for their return to the country of origin is unlikely in the current context. It has been fostered for the last 10 years by social assistance programmes funded by different international organisations and a number of legislative acts and laws adopted by the Armenian national authorities. However, only 10% of refugees (31.257[7]) have acquired the Armenian citizenship. One of the main obstacles in acquiring Armenian citizenship is the shelter problem: many refugees, particularly those living in temporary dwellings, link their naturalisation with shelter conditions and apply for citizenship only when shelter problems are solved.

38. Clearly, the process of integration of the refugees and displaced persons has been constrained by unfavourable socio-economic conditions. On account of the difficult economic situation of the country as a whole, the Government is lacking capacity to meet the needs of its refugees and internally displaced single-handedly. International support to reinforce Armenia's efforts is required.

39. The closure of the OCHA field unit at the beginning of 2000 signalled that the displacement situation in Armenia was no longer considered as a humanitarian emergency. Although the needs for humanitarian assistance remain very high, international humanitarian aid has decreased since 1995, progressively replaced with support to development programmes.

40. However, it should be noted that refugees and displaced persons constitute a large proportion of people dependent on humanitarian relief assistance including food, clothes and medical assistance, provided by the WFP and other international organisations.

41. At present, as the Rapporteur could confirm during her visit, a number of development programmes are underway. Shelter programmes, implemented by UNHCR in co-operation with other organisations seem to be crucial for further integration and should be given more financial support from the international community. The Rapporteur visited several projects and noted considerable improvement in living conditions of the people concerned.

42. Some interesting development projects are implemented by Armenian NGOs. Nearly all of them remain dependent on international funding. The Rapporteur visited an exemplary medical centre for the diagnosis of breast cancer in Yerevan which provides women (including refugee and internally displaced women) with free examination and medical care if necessary.

43. The Rapporteur regrets that considerable humanitarian assistance provided by the Armenian Diaspora is not at all targeted at the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons. In the Rapporteur's opinion, the Armenian authorities do not try to draw the Diaspora's attention to the plight of this vulnerable category of people, leaving the problem to the attention of the international organisations.

4. Situation in Azerbaijan

44. Latest government's statistics show a population of approximately 570 000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the government-controlled territory of Azerbaijan. They have come from Nagorno-Karabakh and eight other regions occupied by Armenian forces (20% of Azerbaijan's territory) in several waves between 1990 - 93 following the violent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. A further 150 000 are Azeri refugees from Armenia, who fled mostly in 1988. Finally, there are 50 000 Meshketian Turks, deported from Georgia in the 1940s, who fled from Uzbekistan in 1989, a movement not connected to the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

45. Azerbaijan has one of the largest per capita refugee and displaced person burden in the world. Between 10 and 15% of the 7,5 million population are refugees or displaced persons who are dispersed throughout the country. In the initial phases of displacement, they settled in a spontaneous manner, mostly in urban areas where they found accommodation in public buildings or with relatives. Settlement patterns changed significantly in 1993, with the establishment of tent camps in the southern and central parts of the country. The camp populations, which had peaked at over 100 000 in 1994, has declined to approximately 40 000 as many people have been transferred to other accommodations, including prefabricated one-room houses furnished by the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

46. At present according to the Azeri authorities, 29% of the IDPs (167 133) live in public buildings, 26% (149 843) stay with relatives or friends, 16,4% (94 517) live in tented camps and other settlements, 7,4% (42 648) occupy uncompleted buildings, 6,8% (39 190) stay in railway wagons; the others stay in illegally occupied apartments and farms. The majority stay in very bad living conditions in overcrowded places, poor access to clean water and sanitary services, and severely limited supplies of energy.

47. Contrary to the situation observed in Armenia, only a small percentage of the people who became displaced in 1993-4 have merged into the communities where they live.

48. The patterns of settlement often run counter to the former livelihood and geographic environment of the displaced. For instance, most of the agricultural workers among the displaced live in the urban areas. A quarter of the internally displaced population is located in Baku. 54,04% of IDPs live in urban areas and 45,96% in rural areas. The general pattern however remains that most internally displaced persons have moved to areas close to their region of origin.

49. The vast majority is dependent on external assistance. They receive relief assistance from the Government and international humanitarian organisations on an every day basis. Around 25% of the food consumed by IDPs comes from international humanitarian organisations. Food assistance is especially needed in rural areas, where limited opportunities for income generation create higher level of dependency. The land to which internally displaced persons have access tends to be of too poor soil quality to enable self-sufficiency. Nutrition surveys conducted among the IDPs show signs of malnutrition (especially among the children) and anaemia.

50. Only approximately 30% of displaced people are provided with jobs. The capacities of their host communities to assimilate them economically and to provide them with basic social services are sharply constrained by the economic difficulties facing the country as a whole.

51. Until recently the Government has been clearly reluctant to allow the integration of IDPs for fear of undermining the goal of return or the prospects of a political settlement. In this regard, the concentration of the people in camps, settlements and public buildings seemed to serve as a means of leverage in the conflict negotiations.

52. This attitude seems to develop and the Rapporteur noted positive (although cautious) opinions of the representatives of the international community on the prospects for the future cooperation. There is a visible progress in the Government's willingness to allow or sponsor income-generation activities among the IDPs.

53. Furthermore, the Government has developed a strategy aimed at shifting from relief to development assistance and it has elaborated the National Programme on Settlement of the Problems of refugees and IDPs which was adopted by Presidential Decree. The essential part of the Programme is devoted to the shelter sector. UNHCR assumes a leading role in shelter rehabilitation to coordinate for the donors the resettlement efforts. Shelter activities will be completed by activities in other sectors addressing the immediate and middle term needs of the displaced population to enable them to be self-sufficient.

54. To implement this strategy, the Social Fund for Development of IDPs was created. It is managed together with the World Bank, UNDP, USAID and UNHCR. The fundamental objective is to improve living conditions and raise the living standards of IDPs by rehabilitating the main physical and social infrastructure, as well as through the creation of new jobs. Micro-projects will be identified by IDPs themselves and will be implemented with their active participation. The Fund is designed to be a local, accountable institution which will manage and monitor the funding of IDP development-oriented assistance, and to become a key player in the return efforts of the IDPs once a peace agreement is reached. It constitutes a good example of integrated multi-sectoral approach.

55. Unfortunately, some problems still exist. For example, local NGOs are constrained by legislation in their efforts to sponsor mini-credit programmes. Similarly, there is no necessary regulation for allowing IDPs to use temporarily state land which otherwise is unutilised.

56. In 1998 an International Advisory Group (IAG) was set up with a view to assisting the Government to implement a comprehensive multi-year "Programme for the Resettlement and Reconstruction of the Liberated Areas". The Programme aims to facilitate the return of some 36 000 displaced persons to their areas of origin in a safe, voluntary and sustainable manner, and to provide an integrated package of infrastructure and income generating activities for those returning.

57. One of the essential prerequisites for returns is the removal of land mines from areas of return. The actual extent of mine contamination is not known, as detailed records of minefields were not made. ICRC undertakes the mine-awareness activities. The Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) is undertaking activities involving all aspects of mine action, including clearance, surveying, public awareness, victim support and management training.

58. More than 40 NGOs actively assist IDPs in Azerbaijan (far fewer than in Armenia). Many of them are currently shifting from emergency assistance to development-related activities. However, international NGOs face operational constraints like mandatory registration, which is cumbersome and lacks transparency, as well as high level of taxation. It has already been mentioned that local NGOs are constrained by legislation in their efforts to sponsor mini-credit programmes. The Law on Registration of Legal Entities is currently underway and UNHCR as well as the Council of Europe have offered legal advice and technical expertise to make it in compliance with acceptable international standard.

59. Level of donor involvement is unlikely to increase significantly unless either a peace agreement is signed with Armenia or significant structural changes take place within the Government which would raise donor confidence.

5. Situation in Georgia

60. The total number of internally displaced persons and IDPs and refugees in Georgia accounts for approximately 250 - 270 000[8] refugees and displaced persons. The principal cause of the current refugee/IDPs situation is to be found in the conflicts in South Ossetia in 1991-92 which resulted in 50 000 displaced people, and in Abkhazia in 1992-93 which uprooted approximately 200 000. A small number of refugees (approximately 8 000 people) has been staying in Georgia since the outbreak of the recent conflict in Chechnya.

61. The population of Georgia accounts for 5.5 million. Georgia is a multiethnic state made up of 68,8% of Georgians, 9% of Armenians, 7,4% of Russians, 5,1% of Azerbaijanis, 3,2% of Ossetians, 1,9% of Greeks, 1,7% of Abkhazians and 2,9% of others.

62. The displaced population is scattered throughout Georgia. The vast majority (72%) live in the urban areas and in particular in Tbilisi (88 680 persons) and Samegrelo-Imereti (144 500 persons) areas in Western Georgia. They are mainly peasants who find it very difficult to adapt to urban conditions.

63. Most of the displaced (60%) live in private accommodation with host families. Usually they pay for accommodation. There have been reports of eviction. About 40% live in collective centres, mainly former hotels, hospitals and public buildings in very precarious conditions. Approximately half of these buildings are in poor or very poor condition with roofing, sewerage and glazing in need of urgent repair. Water systems not designed with a capacity for the number of people now using them have been strained and also need repair. Overcrowding, limited access to facilities, such as toilets or kitchens, and the conditions of accommodation which are especially bad in collective centres are common problems.

64. Georgia has been undergoing the severe economic breakdown since the beginning of 90s. De-industrialisation and serious decline in agriculture has resulted in the lowest per capita GDP in CIS (which in 1999 was only about 40% of 1990 level), lower than in many developing countries. Unemployment amounts to 22% nationally and 35% in urban areas. The economic hardship is stressed by the widespread corruption. The difficult situation of IDPs should be seen in the context of precarious situation of the whole population.

65. Unemployment rate among the displaced population is twice to three times higher than for the local population. In rural areas, displaced rely partly on the land plots provided by the State for temporary use but the land provided is often of poor quality and too distant from accommodations. A survey by the Norwegian Refugee Council concluded that over 50% of the IDP households consistently lacked adequate clothing, and 70% were without enough food.

66. The vast majority of the displaced population has been dependent on State assistance. IDPs are entitled to social aid especially in the form of a small monthly financial assistance which is far below the minimum survival food basket cost and is often distributed with a delay. Other forms of assistance include positive discrimination on the labour market, allocation of land plots, and free and partially free access to various service benefits. However, the increasing transfer of public services to the private sector reduces the right of the displaced to a free access to these services to almost nothing.

67. Access to health care provides a good example of based on illusion state assistance. It is supposed to be provided free of charge to all citizens including displaced persons, but in practice, payment is required.

68. Proportions of illness and modes of treatment are similar for the IDPs and the local population. Self-treatment and absence of treatment altogether are common response, usually for financial reasons. However, in addition to sharing many health problems common to the general population, internally displaced persons are also more susceptible to certain types of problems resulting from their displacement and the circumstances leading to it. In particular, the Save the Children Fund Survey has found that physical disability was more prevalent in internally displaced persons' households than in the local population.

69. In some regions, health clinics specifically for the internally displaced persons have been established as part of a larger programme of parallel public services offered by the Abkhaz Government in exile, using funds channelled to it from the central government. However, these structures which impede access to the public health system, may not necessarily provide better or equal services in many cases.

70. The total number of refugee children and children of displaced persons in Georgia is over 70 000. Enrolment figures at all levels of education are similar for IDPs and the local population. However, lack of adequate clothing and education materials remain an obstacle to many displaced children.

71. Regions have different approaches to the issue of access to schools by displaced children, ranging from the total integration of the children into the regular system to the creation of a separate education system. However, experience in Zugdidi, where most displaced children go to separate schools run by displaced teachers, shows increasing isolation of the displaced children.

72. For a long time, the Georgian authorities were reluctant to facilitate the durable integration of the displaced in Georgia and considered return as the only solution. Until now the displaced have no right to vote in the local and partly in the national elections, encounter difficulties in buying land on the same conditions as the local population, have no equal access to jobs, housing etc.

73. The question of integration has been highly politicised for a long time and the displaced persons have been systematically discouraged from any serious attempts to normalize their status under the pretext that such normalization would allegedly endanger their right to return.

74. The decreasing support from the international donor community however has obliged the Georgian authorities to move away from direct assistance and to enhance the self-reliance capacity of the displaced. With the support of the international community, the government launched the "New approach" to IDP assistance in Georgia in 1999, based on the recognition that the displaced have the right to enjoy the same political and socio-economic rights as all Georgian citizens. Regrettably, so far the results of the Programme are rather disappointing due to the lengthy procedures and unsatisfactory coordination between all the actors.

75. There is a number of projects financed by the international community and implemented by UNHCR implementing partners aimed at the increase of self-sufficiency of the displaced. They include income-generating projects such as micro-loans at preferential rate and with no guarantee required, small grants, collective farms. They are usually addressed to both the local and displaced population. However, their number is far below the level of needs, and only a small part of the population in question can benefit from them.

76. For those willing to return, prospects are not clear. Political dialogue between the Abkhaz authorities and the Georgian Government under the auspices of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General has not resulted in any agreement between the two parties regarding the future status of Abkhasia within Georgia. The 1999 Act of Independence has made the possible solution even more illusory.

77. The Abkhaz authorities however have tolerated the return of ethnic Georgians to the Gali district since 1999. Between 30 000 and 60 000 persons have returned to their homes mainly on a seasonal basis and are commuting with the place of displacement in Georgian controlled area after the harvest. These people complain that they receive no help to reconstruct their houses. It seems that many of them would be able to do on their own if they received construction materials.

78. However, the main obstacle to durable returns is the lack of security in the Gali district, mainly as a result of banditry and confrontations between Abkhaz forces and uncontrolled Georgian groups. Displaced persons remember that the violence which broke out in 1998 resulted in the renewed displacement of some 30 000 returnees. Tensions have risen again recently in the security zone between Abkhazia and Georgia when a helicopter carrying UN monitors was shot down in October 2001. There were also new reports on shelling of villages on both sides. The international forces composed of Russian soldiers are perceived by the displaced population as partial and hostile towards returnees.

79. Antipersonnel mines are another major concern. The majority of landmines are located near the Inguri river separating Georgia and Abkhazia. Outside Abkhazia, mines pose dangers to civilians in Georgia mainly in areas near the border with Abkhazia and near Russian military bases which have been mined. There continue to be reports of armed groups from Georgia laying antipersonnel mines in the Abkhazia region.

80. Another problem concerns the use of the Georgian language in Gali district schools. However, the authorities have recently shown some signs of flexibility regarding the matter.

81. Although of a smaller scale, internal displacement from and within South Ossetia (also referred as the Tskhinvali region) has not proved easier to solve. The war in 1991-1992 displaced up to 30 000 ethnic Georgians from the area and pushed 37 000 ethnic Ossetians to North Ossetia in the Russian federation[9].

82. Under the auspices of the OSCE and UNHCR, an agreement was reached regarding the return of refugees and internally displaced persons in 1997. Since then the authorities in South Ossetia and in Georgia have done little to facilitate the return of ethnic Georgians to South Ossetia or ethnic Ossets to Georgia. The poor economy in South Ossetia and lack of will to enforce property rights in South Ossetia or elsewhere in Georgia explain the insignificant level of return movements so far. The absence of political will to return has discouraged donors from supporting development and transitional assistance programmes while funding for humanitarian assistance is decreasing.

83. With respect to security conditions, though active hostilities have long since ended and the ceasefire continues to hold, security incidents of a criminal nature pose risks to returnees, the local population and international personnel. Ethnically targeted incidents of harassment and violence were reported and are a particular risk in ethnically mixed villages, to which returns have begun.

84. The presence of UNHCR in the region (since 1997) was widely regarded, by returnee communities, the local population, the authorities and international personnel alike, as having made a major contribution to the security of returnees and the population at large, as well as to a general climate of reconciliation and confidence building.

85. The Georgian and South Ossetian sides have achieved substantial agreements on joint action against criminality. A joint Law Enforcement Coordination Body was formed in February 2000 with a Peacekeeping Force, South Ossetian, and local Georgian law enforcement authorities participating.

86. In addition to protection and physical security, repair and restitution of property is another prerequisite for return. UNHCR has been repairing or rehabilitating shelters for returnees since 1997 (more than I 000 shelters). However, UNHCR and NRC have scaled back their shelter rehabilitation

87. On the other hand, the local authorities in Georgia have not enforced the property rights of ethnic Osset potential returnees currently displaced in South Ossetia and refugees in North Ossetia whose pre-war place of residence was in Georgia proper. One of the major obstacles to their return is the issue of property restitution. It is reported that legal claims by returnees to their homes and property are usually denied and even when they are successful in obtaining a judicial eviction order, it is frequently not implemented by local officials. According to estimations, the property rights of as many as 60 000 - 80 000 persons could have been violated.

88. Concerning the situation of 8 000 Chechen refugees staying in the Pankisi Valley, the main concern is to prevent any hasty and premature repatriation. 70% are hosted by the local population, 30% live in communal centres. All of them are dependent on international assistance. Any returns should be made on voluntary basis, and only when security conditions in Chechnya will be satisfactory.

89. As to the specific problem of the "Meskhetian Turks", and their right to return, the Rapporteur notes with concern that the relevant law is still under preparation, and no clear timetable for its adoption by the Parliament is foreseen.

6. Conclusions and recommendations

90. It is clear that a final solution of the refugee situation, including the question of displaced persons and their return, depends on a peace settlement of the various regional conflicts. However, certain issues of humanitarian nature can and should be discussed and evaluated already now irrespective of political considerations.

91. In particular, under no circumstances, the displaced population should be used as an instrument for political negotiations. Durable solutions including integrations for those who wish to integrate should be elaborated and implemented as quickly as possible, in full co-operation with the international community.

92. In this respect the Rapporteur notes with satisfaction certain progress. In particular, the New Approach in Georgia and the National Programme in Azerbaijan indicate a significant change in attitude of both Governments.

93. The common concern of displaced population in three countries is the lack of economic opportunities. However, even taking into account bad overall economic situation of the region, some measures can be undertaken. Support for small business, micro-credit opportunities and other income-generating projects combined with more food for work programmes and vocational training is essential. It should be ensured that all these opportunities reach displaced populations, and in particular special treatment should be reserved for women and single household heads.

94. On the other hand, monthly financial State aid to IDPs established by law is insufficient to be considered as an effective assistance from the State. The problem of timely distribution must be regulated in a better way.

95. Lack of programmes for guaranteeing healthcare for IDPs is a great problem in the three republics. They should clearly define responsibilities of different state agencies and adequate reaction to violations. Special funds should be established and placed under international control. The process of distribution of medications through humanitarian aid should also be subjected to a better control. It has to be stressed, however, that shameful the level of healthcare is a problem which is not specific for the displaced population but it concerns the whole population in the South Caucasus.

96. The international community should consider the possibility of increased assistance in terms of construction material and tools provided to potential returnees in order to enable them reparations of their households.

APPENDIX 1

PROGRAMME OF THE VISIT OF MRS VERMOT-MANGOLD, RAPPORTEUR OF THE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography in AZERBAIJAN
14-16 May 2001

Monday, 14 May 2001

03.50: Arrival at the airport "Bina" by SR 3496

15.30: Meeting with the Ambassadors of the Council of Member States to the Republic of Azerbaijan:

  • Mr Jean-Pierre GUINHUT (France)
  • Mr Zurab GUMBERIDZE (Georgia)
  • Mr Christian SIEBECK (Germany)
  • Mr Mercourios KARAFOTIAS (Greece)
  • Mr Alessandro FALLAVOLLITA (Italy)
  • Mr Olav BERSTAD (Norway)
  • Mr Stanislav STAWIARSKI, Chargé d'Affaires (Poland)
  • Mr Tasim GEMIL (Romania)
  • Mr Nikolay T. RYABOV (Russia)
  • Mr Ecvet TEZCAN (Turkey)
  • Mr Borys ALEKSENKO (Ukraine)
  • Mr Anrew TUKER (United Kingdom)

16.45: Meeting with the representatives of UNHCR, ICRC, OSCE, UNDP

18.00: Meeting with the representatives of NGOs

19.00: Dinner

Tuesday, 15 May 2001

10.00: Meeting with Mr Ali HASANOV, Chairman of the State Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

11.30: Meeting with Mr Hajibala ABUTALIBOV, Mayor of the city of Baku

13.00: Lunch

14.45: Meeting with the representatives of the Milli Mejlis (National Assembly)

16.00: Meeting with Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan

17.00: Meeting with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan

19.00: Dinner

Wednesday, 16 May 2001

Visit to refugee camps

APPENDIX 2

PROGRAMME OF THE VISIT OF MRS VERMOT-MANGOLD, RAPPORTEUR OF THE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography TO REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA
Yerevan, 17-22 October 2001

Wednesday, 17 October

4.45 am: Arrival of the delegation in Yerevan
Accommodation at the hotel Armenia

9.00-10.00: Breakfast at the hotel

11.00-12.00: Meeting with the UN High Commissioner on refugees

12.15-13.15: Meeting with the representatives of Red Cross

13.30-14.30: Lunch

14.45-15.45: Meeting with the representatives of NGOs dealing with refugees issues

16.00-17.00: Meeting with the representatives of NGOs dealing with women issues

17.10-17.50: Meeting with Mrs Larisa ALAVERDYAN

19.30: Dinner hosted by the delegation of the National Assembly to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Thursday, 18 October

10.00-11.00: Meeting with Mr Gagik EGANYAN, Head of the department on migration and refugees under the Government

11.15-13.30: Visit to refugee camps. Meeting with refugees / in Yerevan /

13.45-15.00: Lunch

15.15-18.30: Visit to refugee camps. Meeting with refugees / in Masis /

19.30: Dinner hosted by Mr Armen KHACHATRYAN, President of the National Assembly of RA in the honour of the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly

Friday, 19 October

9.45-10.30: Meeting with Mr Gagik TADEVOSYAN, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Health Care and Environment of the National Assembly of RA

10.45-11.30: Meeting with the members of the delegation of the National Assembly to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

11.45-12.30: Meeting with Mr Armen KHACHATRYAN, President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia

12.45-14.00: Lunch

14.30-15.15: Meeting with Mr Vardan OSKANYAN, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia

19.30: Dinner

Saturday, 20 October

Visits to refugee collective centres. Meeting with refugees

12.30-13.30: Lunch

Sunday, 21 October

Visits to refugee collective centres

Monday, 22 October

5.35 am: Departure

APPENDIX 3

PROGRAMME OF THE VISIT OF THE RAPPORTEUR OF THE Parliamentary Assembly OF THE Council of Europe Mrs Gaby Vermot-Mangold in Georgia

Tuesday, March 26 2002

05:10: Arrival

11:15: Departure for UNHCR Tbilisi Office

11:30: Meeting with Head of UNHCR c/o Mrs Catherine Bertrand

13:00: Lunch at the hotel

14:15: Departure to ICRC Tbilisi office

14:30: Meeting with the Head of ICRC c/o Mr François Bellon

15:15: Departure to UN House

15:30: Meeting with Ms Maura Lynch (OCHA)

17:00: Round Table with NGOs

Wednesday, March 27 2002

08:30: Departure for Gori

10:00: Meeting with IDPs from Tskhinvali region (former South Osetia) and local authorities

12:00: Lunch in Gori

13:00: Departure from Gori

16:00: Arrival to Kutaisi

17:00: Meeting with IDPs from Abkhazia and local authorities

20:00: Dinner

Thursday, March 28 2002

08:30: Departure for Zugdidi

10:00: Meeting at UNHCR Zugdidi office

11:00: Meeting with IDPs from Abkhazia and local authorities

14:00: Lunch

15:00: Departure for Tbilisi

Friday, March 29 2002

10:00: Meeting with the President of the Parliament of Georgia Mrs Nino Burdzhanadze

11:00: Meeting with Minister for Refugees and Accommodation of Georgia Mr. Valeri Vashakidze

12:00: Meeting with Vice-President of the Parliament of Georgia Mr Vakhtang Kolbaia

13:00: Lunch

14:30: Meeting with Chairman of Committee on Civil Integration of the Parliament of Georgia Mr. Gela Kvaratskhelia

15:30: Meeting with Minister of Special Assignments Mr Malkhaz Kakabadze

16:30: Meeting with Ombudsman Mrs Nana Devdariani

17:30: Press-Conference

Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to committee: Order No. 533 (1997) and Doc. 9348, Reference No. 2696 of 26 March 2002.

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 27 May 2002.

Members of the committee: Mr Iwiński (Chairperson), Mr Einarsson (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Vermot-Mangold (2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Busić (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Aguiar, MM. Akhvlediani, Aliyev G., Mrs van Ardenne-van der Hoeven, MM. de Arístegui (alternate: Agramunt), Arzilli, Bernik, Mrs Björnemalm, MM. Van den Brande, Branger, Brînzan, Brunhart, Christodoulides, Cilevičs, Connor, Danieli, Debarge, Dedja, Díaz de Mera (alternate: Fernández-Aguilar), Dmitrijevas, Ehrmann, Mrs Err (alternate: Mr Glesener), Mrs Fehr, Mrs Frimannsdóttir, MM. Grzesik, Grzyb (alternate: Gadzinowski), Hancock, Hordies, Hovhannisyan, Ilaşcu, Ivanov, Jařab, Lord Judd, MM. Karpov, Kirilov (alternate: Toshev), Kolb (alternate: Zierer), Koulouris (alternate: Mrs Katseli), Kulikov (alternate: Rogozin), Kvakkestad, Laakso, Le Guen, Liapis, Mrs Lörcher, MM. Loutfi, Luís, Mrs Markovska (alternate: Mr Gligoroski), MM. Mutman, Naro (alternate: Rivolta), Nessa, Oliynyk, Mrs Onur, MM. Ouzký, Popa, Prijmireanu, Pullicino Orlando, Saglam, von Schmude, Schweitzer, Mrs Shakhtakhtinskaya (alternate: Mr Seyidov), MM. Slutsky, Soendergaard, Mrs Stoisits (alternate: Mr Gatterer), MM. Szinyei, Tabajdi, Telek, Tkáč, Udovenko, Wilkinson, Wray, Yáñez-Barnuevo, Zavgayev, Zhirinovsky (alternate: Mrs Gamzatova), Mrs de Zulueta, Mrs Zwerver.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo, Ms Sirtori.

[1] See Docs 8747, 8756, Opinion No. 221 (2000) (Armenia); Docs 8748, 8757, Opinion No. 222 (2000) (Azerbaijan); Docs 8275, 8296, Opinion No. 209 (1999) (Georgia).

[2] See Opinion No. 209 (1999).

[3] Ethno-political conflict in Abkhazia in 1992-93 resulted in mainly ethnic Georgians leaving the region. In total approximately 270 000 people were displaced. In May 1998 some 60 000 returnees became IDPs a second time after outbreak of violence in the Gali region.

[4] In 1991-92 the fights between South-Ossetian separatists and Georgians displaced around 50 000 ethnic Georgians into Georgia and Ossetians into Russia.

[5] The 1991-94 violent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia displaced around 310 000 Armenians from Azerbaijan to Armenia and approximately 1 160 000 Azeris from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri territory occupied by Armenia into Azerbaijan.

[6] See Docs 8275 and 8296 on accession of Georgia to the Council of Europe.

[7] as of 1.05.2001.

[8] Independent observers estimate the number at around 250 000. The Georgian Government uses the figure of 272 101 persons as of January 2001.

[9] It should be noted that figures for displacement associated with Georgian-Osset conflict are estimates on account of the fact that there has never been an effective registration of the displaced. Today, estimates of the remaining displaced population remain vague, with conflicting figures offered by both sides.