As negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh stall, the Azerbaijan government has improved living conditions for the internally displaced (IDPs), though return to the occupied territories remains by far the preferred solution.
Tackling Azerbaijan’s IDP Burden, the latest International Crisis Group briefing, examines the impact of the failure to reach a peace settlement on the nearly 600,000 Azerbaijani IDPs forcibly evicted from homes in Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. With no quick solution in sight, the government, aided by increasing oil wealth since 2004, has intensified efforts to deal with IDP needs. Poverty rates have decreased dramatically, and the state is building better housing and improving health care.
“The government of Azerbaijan has progressed from its old attitude of indifference and institutional dysfunction to a new approach of dealing with the painful reality of trying to cope with the economic and social needs of its extremely large displaced population”, says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director.
Yet, 400,000 still live in sub-standard dwellings, there are problems with bureaucracy and corruption, and approximately 128,000 IDPs and permanent residents live in close proximity to the 180km-long line of contact (LoC) that has divided the opposing forces since the 1994 ceasefire. They are exposed to the immediate threat of ongoing front-line skirmishes that kill some 30 persons yearly.
To protect the civilians along the LoC, the Azerbaijan authorities should agree to an expanded interim monitoring role by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to proposals to remove snipers from the LoC and to set up an incident investigation mechanism between the sides to discuss ceasefire breaches. The government should also create an inter-ministerial task force, including the National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA), to design a strategy to increase the safety of communities near the LoC.
IDPs should be given opportunities to engage on policies relevant to their daily lives. The Azerbaijan government should include them more in housing decisions, streamline processes for reporting incidents of corruption or violations of state law regarding IDP issues and allow them to vote for municipal councils in their places of temporary residence. The political voice of IDPs in decision-making processes that affect their lives remains weak and should be strengthened.
“While the Azerbaijan government has taken important steps to improve living conditions for IDPs, it is shocking that a generation on, displacement and occupation continue to mar regional development and security”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “Lack of sustainable solutions is an important reason why a negotiated settlement is essential if eventual resumption of all-out war is to be avoided”.
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