Almost a year has passed since the outbreak of the Nagorno Karabakh (NK) conflict in September 2020, which left over 90,000 people of NK displaced from their homes and relocated to Armenia. As of May 2021, the majority of these people have returned to NK1 , and those who remain (approximately 35,000 people2 ) are expected to stay for the longer term, due to the movement of their areas of origin (AoO) under Azerbaijani control and other factors (such as security concerns and socio-economic challenges) that increase their vulnerability.
Given the continued presence of refugee-like population3 , this assessment was conducted to support the development of early recovery programming and contribute to exit strategies after the completion of immediate emergency assistance, especially as the Inter-Agency Response Plan (IARP)4 is being updated for the duration till the end of 2021. Understanding such longer term humanitarian and early recovery needs5 of the remaining population could inform when and how the transition from cash, inkind and voucher-based humanitarian support should be implemented. To generate an in-depth understanding of the livelihood needs of this particularly vulnerable population within the context of a transitioning humanitarian response, this Economic Resilience Assessment (ERA) was implemented in the framework of the “Multisectoral Emergency Assistance to Vulnerable Conflict-Affected Population” project funded by ECHO, and the field activities were conducted in close collaboration with the Unified Social Service (USS) of the Republic of Armenia Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
The assessment employed a mixed methods approach combining 1) a desk review6 of the existing information on the socio-economic environment in which the refugee-like population must integrate themselves in the case of long-term displacement, and 2) Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) to assess the demand side of the job market and ascertain perceived barriers to employment in Armenia. The primary data collection component of the assessment thus followed a qualitative methodology using a semistructured data collection tool. Primary data collection was implemented through a total of 21 FGDs conducted across three population groups of interest: 1) refugee-like population remaining in Armenia, 2) host communities7 , and 3) social workers from municipalities and regional employment centres. To identify FGD participants, a mix of purposive and snowball sampling strategies were followed. The geographic areas covered by this assessment included 5 marzes overall, including the capital Yerevan .Given the qualitative nature of this assessment, the findings should be considered as indicative only, and not representative of the general refugee-like population or the host communities.
➢ Main sources of income: While the refugee-like population were found to be mostly relying on the state-provided assistance9 , host community members reported to be primarily relying on the salaries of the working family members, pensions or other state allowances and benefits. Other sources of income reported by the refugee-like population were temporary or seasonal jobs (such as construction, harvest, etc.), daily paid jobs, agricultural/farming activities, or labor migration10 . In the case of employees of state and community institutions (including schools) in NK, they also continued to receive salaries fully or partially (terminated as of the end of 2021). In some cases, host community members were also found to be relying on farming or other agricultural activities (reported by the participants in marzes, and primarily in rural communities). ➢ Housing and living conditions: Based on demographic information provided by FGD participants, refugee-like population were more likely to be staying in rented apartments, while host community members were more likely living in their own house/apartment. It can be assumed that refugee-like population bears the additional burden of house rental costs. Consistently, most of the FGD participants among the refugee-like population highlighted not having their own house/shelter as a major challenge with the following main issues related to that: high rental costs even for apartments lacking basic conditions, lack of clarity on the future, and lack of stability disallowing making long-term livelihood choices when having to move from one place to another. ➢ Major livelihood challenges: FGD participants from both population groups indicated having hard time covering basic livelihood needs and trying to find a balance between such needs as utility payments, food and clothes, healthcare, and education costs. For both population groups utilities were reportedly their primary expenses. While in rural areas participants could rely on alternative means, e.g. firewood or manure for heating, or their own agricultural products or crop production for nutrition, this was not possible for urban residents.
In terms of food-related expenses, while there were no participants in the 21 FGDs who reported not being able to ensure food security for themselves and their HH members, nevertheless, difficulties ensuring proper dietary diversity (particularly for children) was mostly highlighted as a challenge, also given increased prices on food. In terms of expenditures, participants from both population groups reported to be cutting down clothes expenses.
It is possible that host communities, in a sense, find themselves in a more vulnerable situation, as unlike the people in a refugee-like situation who have been receiving extensive clothesrelated support (at least during the first months of their displacement), host community members do not receive much of clothes/clothing kits and have to rely on such assistance coming from relatives, neighbors, or in rare cases – NGOs or other organizations. In terms of healthcare, wherever facing challenges affording some expenses, participants in both population groups mostly reported saving on healthcare costs - skipping visiting doctors even if they had to, decreasing the regularity of visits in case of chronic illnesses, and taking other similar actions to cut down on the healthcare costs. In terms of education, FGD participants with school-aged children in the HH pointed out some challenges covering these costs – mainly expenses related to extracurricular tutoring, stationery and books, and tuition fees in the case of university or college students. ➢ Job-finding attempts: Given continued stay in Armenia and need for longer-term selfreliance, the refugee-like population was found to be more actively seeking jobs or income-generating activities than during the first months of displacement. While most of the participants among the refugee-like population, particularly men, reported having engaged in some short-term, non-formal, or seasonal jobs and daily-paid activities, a small proportion of participants in general (among both population groups) highlighted not having taken any action towards finding a job or an income-generating activity, not applying to any institution - either state or private. The main reasons reportedly were either lacking previous working experience and not expecting to succeed, or lacking knowledge on where who or how to apply or being unsure of their chances based on other people's experience. Most of the participants among both population groups were aware of the Employment Service (now integrated into the RA MoLSA Unified Social Service), were registered as the beneficiaries of the service, and relied on their assistance in job-finding attempts. Nevertheless, there were some challenges that they faced with the Employment service, namely long waiting time (even up to a couple of months) before they got any offers or job opportunities, and narrow range of potential job opportunities, mostly requiring low-skilled labour force with low salaries. ➢ Barriers to employment: Participants from both population groups identified many similar challenges relating to the situation in the labor market and the general job prospects. This was acknowledged also by the people in a refugee-like situation themselves as they substantively mentioned that the labour market was the same for everyone, and if there were no available jobs, it applied to everyone. There were a few barriers which were specific to the refugee-like population such as discrimination based on belonging to the refugeelike population, bureaucratic barriers, and lack of clarity on the future. Overall, major barriers identified by the FGD participants were: 1) lack of job opportunities, 2) low wages, 3) work environment and conditions, 4) lack of work experience, 5) lack of skills and education, 6) nepotism and unfair hiring, 7) discrimination based on belonging to the refugee-like population,
8) care responsibilities (mostly identified by female participants), 9) age (applied not only to the elderly participants but also middle-aged participants), 10) lack of clarity on the future as an obstacle for long-term planning, 11) barriers to launching agricultural activities, 12) bureaucratic barriers for the refugee-like population not being considered eligible for some employment and other support programmes, 13) health-related issues, 14) lack of working tools, 15) lack of awareness on support programmes and lack of knowledge on to who, where and how to apply.
These barriers are presented in more detail in the relevant section. ➢ Modalities of assistance: Participants from both population groups reported that with relevant support programs and modalities of assistance they would have better chances in their job-seeking attempts. Although there were FGD participants who were unsure how exactly the Government, international or local organizations, or community institutions could assist in their search for a job or the process of engaging in income-generating activities, most of the participants pointed out various aspects where they needed support. Some of the most highlighted areas for support were: 1) filling the gap in education and skills, 2) job placement,
3) financial support to cover education, training costs or as initial support to launch incomegenerating activities, 4) support in agricultural activities (acquisition of livestock, land for cultivation, setting up small farming activities, etc.), 5) housing and shelter support to build stability and lay a foundation for long-term planning, 6) provision of working tools to engage in income-generating activities.
➢ Challenges faced by the Employment and Social service providers: The Employment Service was found to have initiated two specific programs to provide employment support to the refugee-like population, namely 1) three-month programme to gain work experience, 2) temporary employment by involvement in paid community works. One of the added values of this assessment was the incorporation of inputs from Employment and Social service providers contributing to building a more comprehensive understanding of the livelihood and economic challenges of the refugee-like population and host communities, and more solid findings for the relevant international humanitarian and development actors to rely on for early recovery planning. Being the primary state institution to which vulnerable groups of the population apply for support in tackling their livelihood challenges and solving their employability issues, these institutions were themselves facing challenges impacting efficiency and quality of their services, particularly: 1) lack of material resources,
2) lack of inter-agency collaboration, 3) lack of proper mechanisms for better efficiency and evidence-based decision-making, 4) a capacity gap in terms of skills and knowledge, and, finally,
5) lack of human resources.
Overall, findings from this ERA indicate that basic housing and livelihood challenges (connected to the ability to pay rental or utility costs, ensure food security, cover basic education and healthcare costs) faced by the refugee-like population also impact their capacity for longer-term planning and attempts of ensuring self-reliance through jobs or income-generating activities. These challenges were particularly expected to aggravate with the termination of the state-provided monthly allowances from August 2021. Given the need for self-reliance throughout their continued stay in Armenia, many people in the refugee-like situation reported on various job-finding attempts, mostly highlighting short-term, seasonal, or daily paid job opportunities available to them. Additionally, there were several employment support programs designed specifically for the refugee-like population, however the latter expressed some concerns about their efficiency, as well as additional barriers to decent employment in Armenia. The findings further indicate lack of significant gaps in terms of employment barriers faced by the refugee-like population and host communities, and only a few of the reported barriers were specific to the refugee-like population such as discrimination based on belonging to the refugee-like population, bureaucratic barriers, and lack of clarity on the future.
It can be concluded that there is a growing need for well-planned development and support programs targeting engagement of the refugee-like population in economic activities as a sustainable solution to strengthening their capacity for self-reliance. While these findings could be useful to inform the humanitarian and development actors in Armenia on the key livelihood needs and employment barriers among the refugee-like population and host communities, they also highlight persisting limitations and knowledge gaps, which could be further explored in future assessments, such as concerning the capacity of the Employment and Social services to address the needs of these vulnerable population groups