Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees highlighted in the European Parliament

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On UN World Refugee Day, The European Azerbaijan Society in Brussels organised a roundtable in the European Parliament to draw attention to the ongoing plight of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The roundtable in the European Parliament

All participants in the roundtable recognised the ongoing violation of the IDPs' and refugees' rights

It is our responsibility to keep the topic fresh in the minds of those working in European institutions.

The Brussels office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and The Association of Young Azerbaijani Professionals in Europe (AYAPE) organised a historic roundtable to commemorate UN World Refugee Day on 20 June – the only event in the European Parliament to recognise this date. The discussion, hosted by German MEP Hiltrud Breyer (Greens), focused on the ongoing plight of the estimated 875,000 Azerbaijani Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees – the continuing victims of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding districts.

H.E. Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the EU, said: “The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the most serious situation affecting Azerbaijani society. The Azerbaijani government is paying enormous attention to helping improve living conditions for Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs. Camps are spread across all 76 administrative districts of Azerbaijan. Last year, AZN300m (£224.9m) from the coffers of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) was spent on improving the livelihoods of the refugees and IDPs. I urge the young Azerbaijanis here today to raise awareness of the continuing impact on Azerbaijan of the illegal Armenian occupation.

“It is our responsibility to keep the topic fresh in the minds of those working in European institutions. The rights of these people continue to be violated, and the European Parliament has passed resolutions condemning the occupation, yet it continues to do nothing. We want to create a better future for ourselves and for Armenia, our neighbour.”

Pascal Heyman, Former Deputy-General of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre, now in charge of Security Affairs, Belgian Foreign Ministry, examined the social problems arising from the conflict: “According to Azerbaijani statistics, poverty amongst IDPs and refugees reduced from 75 to 18 per cent during the past decade, although they still fare worse than the remainder of the population. For OSCE, displacement has always been a concern, as it always leads to instability. The OSCE Minsk Group recognises the right of populations to return to their former places of residence. However, there are limitations on what can be done, as the conflict remains unsettled and the situation cannot be resolved.”

H.E. Arif Mammadov, Ambassador of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) to the EU said: “The OIC has passed more resolutions in support of Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh than any other organisation. When the conflict is resolved, it is hoped that refugees and IDPs will be reintegrated into society, and the EU has instigated projects to assist with their education. There are also EU projects for Azerbaijani–Armenian mixed families.

“It is unacceptable for those who committed these crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh to rise to the highest levels in the Armenian government – almost all the Armenian leadership originates from Nagorno-Karabakh. The international community should examine this situation more carefully. Azerbaijan has developed many state programmes for IDPs and refugees, but they still want to return home. I am hoping the European Parliament will pay more attention to this situation, and will punish those that are responsible for this suffering. I am hoping the EU will work more closely with OIC, particularly on this issue.”

HE Khazar Ibrahim, Azerbaijani Ambassador to NATO remarked: “These people must return to their lands – whether in Nagorno-Karabakh, the seven surrounding districts, or to Armenia, if they previously lived there. There is always a risk of radicalisation amongst the dispossessed, but this is not the case amongst Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees. I hope that, one day, they will represent my country at NATO. But also hope that there will be no need for events such as this roundtable, as there will then be no Azerbaijani IDPs or refugees.”

Atanas Baltov, Political Advisor, Office of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia said: “The EU remains committed to resolving such crises and enabling refugees and IDPs around the world to return home. However, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is being dealt with through the OSCE Minsk Group format.

“There is an opportunity for Azerbaijan to use EU mechanisms to improve the quality of education for the affected population. It has also recognised that Civil Society programmes such as the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK) could be effective and that the status quo is unsustainable.”

Manuel Arnal, Principal Advisor, TEAS; Former Director, European Commission; and Professor of Political Economy, Zaragoza University, interjected: “One of the problems is the composition of the OSCE Minsk Group. There have been discussions throughout the past two decades without any result. The IDPs and refugees are the victims of the conflict and the military occupation of nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory.”

Yalchin Mammadov, AYAPE Board Member, said: “I am an IDP – I was born in Aghdam, a small Azerbaijani town in Nagorno-Karabakh. It was devastated during the conflict. The UNHCR recently released its report that states that 51m people have been driven from their homes since the end of the Second World War. The proportion of IDPs and refugees in a country the size of Azerbaijan is very significant. No-one is an IDP or refugee out of choice and the people who escape and survive are heroes.”

Roman Huna, Head, TEAS Brussels office, concluded: “TEAS is always aiming to organise meetings on 20 June to raise awareness of this situation. The refugee and IDP crisis has a global dimension. The populations in Azerbaijan cannot return home without settlement of the conflict, but after 20 years of ceasefire and negotiations, nothing has been achieved. I hope the new European Commission will turn the focus towards this conflict. International organisations such as the EU ans OSCE have a major role to play. The main objective is for these people to be able to return home.”

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