26 March 2014 | Nadine Walicki
Can Azerbaijan solve internal displacement in Europe?
Azerbaijan is preparing to take up a key chairmanship of the Council of Europe. With 20 years of experience in addressing internal displacement at home, it should make internal displacement in Europe the highest priority during its tenure. IDMC argues, however, that with over 597,000 still displaced in Azerbaijan, it must also lead by example.
Entering Mushvigabad, the government of Azerbaijan’s concern for its internally displaced people (IDPs) is immediately evident. The largest new settlement built for 60,000 IDPs on the outskirts of Baku, it has slick paved roads, numerous red brick multi-storey apartment buildings with air conditioners, and a brand new school at the centre. Apartments are comfortable and IDPs can access transport and medical centres nearby.
This is one of many settlements built for IDPs displaced in the country since the early 1990s. Since 2001, another 120,000 IDPs have been relocated to other settlements newly built for IDPs. The government has also raised awareness on displacement, collected data on IDPs, trained officials on IDPs’ rights, adopted laws and policies on IDP protection and spent billions of dollars on IDPs in the process.
Azerbaijan can lead on IDPs in Europe… but only by example
Most of the displaced people fled their homes two decades ago as a result of the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh, an autonomous region in western Azerbaijan. While peace talks have yet to resolve the conflict, there is no doubt that since then Azerbaijan has taken many steps to resolve the concerns of its IDP population. It is therefore extremely well-placed to serve as an IDP advocate in the region, and the opportunity is ripe for the taking.
As it takes up the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe in May, Azerbaijan must seize the opportunity to draw attention to the plight of the 2.3 million IDPs in the Balkans and Caucasus at the highest levels of European governance. It must wield its leadership of the committee to efficiently approach internal displacement in Europe in much the same manner as it has at home: by pressing for the specific displacement-related needs of IDPs to be both understood and addressed.
Employing a needs-based approach to displacement is still a work in progress for Azerbaijan, however. Indeed, for the country’s displaced citizens who have not been able to benefit from the housing programmes, many have become more vulnerable over the years. Despite positive discrimination measures; a monthly IDP allowance of $23, priority consideration for some jobs, and free university tuition, for example, many IDPs continue to face numerous challenges.
After 20 years in displacement, why is a needs-based approach the best way forward?
The situation for IDPs in Azerbaijan highlights a trend that occurs throughout the world: the problems faced by displaced people are frequently more complex and nuanced the longer they remain displaced. Europe is a region suffering particularly protracted displacement situations with most people displaced for over two decades. Only in understanding these specific, and often quite individual, needs and concerns can a relevant and efficient plan of action be adopted to fully and sustainably resolve displacement.
Of the people who were displaced as a result of the conflict twenty years ago in Azerbaijan, some have become high-ranking government officials, while others squander in makeshift housing and rely on government benefits to survive. In short, not all are in need of government assistance, thus giving all IDPs access to entitlements is no longer appropriate. This is a subtlety of the characteristics of protracted displacement that the government of Azerbaijan is still overlooking in its IDP policies and assistance programmes.
Tailoring government assistance to address the needs of the most vulnerable IDPs is not only a more efficient use of limited resources, but also a more equitable and fair approach. In the absence of comprehensive up-to-date data on IDPs’ socio-economic situation in Azerbaijan, it is unclear, however, how many people continue to struggle with challenges related to their displacement.
Needs-based approach requires better data
In a new report released today, IDMC argues that Azerbaijan’s first step should be to expand the data it has on its own IDPs to include comprehensive information on their outstanding needs. UNHCR’s largest IDP assessment in Azerbaijan to date, conducted in 2013, could be used as a basis for such a profiling exercise.
A profiling assessment would reveal the extent to which IDPs still have needs related to their displacement, and give IDPs themselves the opportunity to offer suggestions on how their needs can be best addressed. The results could be used to help tailor a more relevant and efficient response under the next state programme for IDPs, which is due to be adopted this year.
A blanket approach to IDP assistance in Azerbaijan and the rest of Europe is no longer appropriate. Displaced for some two decades, IDPs in the Council of Europe region need to be understood and respected as individuals in order to overcome the legacy of their displacement. Azerbaijan can lead the region on this journey.