Azerbaijan is located between Iran, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and the Caspian Sea. It regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Soon after, the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region between Azerbaijan and its neighbor country Armenia escalated leading to war in 1992. The ceasefire was agreed in 1994 and it stopped military operations but Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding provinces belonging to Azerbaijan are still held by the Armenian forces. It is estimated that initially over a million Azerbaijanis were displaced. Today there are still roughly between 600 to 700 thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Azerbaijan making one of the highest rates of IDPs per capita in the world. Their protracted displacement makes them extremely vulnerable and despite the fact that the government undertook serious efforts to improve their living conditions in recent years, external assistance is still essential.
In addition to IDPs, Azerbaijan hosts a caseload of 1,750 (as of December, 2011) refugees and asylum seekers from Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and other countries due to armed conflicts, violence and political instability in neighbouring countries and the Middle East. Voluntary repatriation is currently not a viable option for the majority of the refugees; resettlement opportunities remain extremely limited and most of refugees rely on UNHCR and international NGOs to access basic services. Most of them are living in very poor conditions with fragile livelihoods and also facing protection challenges with regard to their legal status in the country.
DRC started its operations in Azerbaijan in 1996 responding to the crises induced by the conflict by providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced population. Over the years, as the nature of needs of the targeted population has been changing, the programme focus shifted from humanitarian assistance to development assistance. DRC also included refugees and asylum seekers in the assistance provision.
At present DRC and its local partners are providing the following assistance to IDPs and refugees:
- Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
- Business trainings
- Legal support to refugees and asylum seekers
- Support for youth participation in decision making
- Children human rights trainings
- Support of education of vulnerable groups like children with disabilities
DRC Azerbaijan is conducting regular monitoring and surveys among the target groups to follow up on context changes, living conditions and elaborate projects according to beneficiaries needs. It has also established and maintains regular communication with representatives of beneficiaries, authorities, NGOs and other stakeholders that feeds into the situational analyses and inform programme development.
DRC Azerbaijan remains committed to continue providing support to IDPs, refugees and asylum seekers in the fields of livelihoods, protection and encouragement of civil participation.
Main donors for DRC in Azerbaijan are today: EU, UNHCR