IDP crisis acknowledged in new FCO report – but figures questioned by the Azerbaijani MFA

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Although it acknowledges the extent of Azerbaijan's IDP and refugee crisis, the terminology and comments in a new UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office report have been queried by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Whatever their current situation, the fact is that these 250,000 Azerbaijanis are refugees and their plight should not be glibly dismissed in this way.

In an unprecedented move, a new report from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) – entitled 'Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the South Caucasus – the numbers game' (published 10 December 2014) acknowledged: “Azerbaijan is host to one of the largest populations of displaced persons in the world in per capita terms.” The report analyses the seismic population shifts that have taken place in Azerbaijan and Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and their economic impact. It also speaks of the “enormous suffering and hardship” of those affected.

Recognising that those in Azerbaijan are the ongoing victims of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, it concludes by stating: “The right of refugees and IDPs to return to their homes is central to Baku’s vision for restoring their territorial integrity – and in principle, this is supported by the international community as a necessary element of any long-term settlement.”

The FCO report goes on to state that the Azerbaijani official figure of “around a million IDPs and refugees” is slightly above that of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). However, the report seems to cast doubt upon the basis for this, stating that: “the one million figure encompasses the estimated 250,000 ethnic Azerbaijani ‘refugees’ who fled Armenia in the early 1990s. This latter community, however, has never been formally registered by the UNHCR as refugees, as the vast majority of these people, it can be assumed, have by now either left Azerbaijan altogether, or been granted Azerbaijani citizenship.”

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has objected to the title of this report, saying that the presentation of the situation of refugees in the South Caucasus with an ironical reference to a ‘numbers game’ is not at all a suitable approach. Armenian aggression resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs. The subject is Azerbaijan’s living for over 20 years with the humanitarian tragedy inflicted on one million people, one of the biggest human catastrophes since World War II. An MFA spokesman said there is no basis to doubt the demand by these people to return to their native land – a right supported by international law and humanitarian law. It is of crucial importance that such reports should be worded with accurate terminology, as Azerbaijani society is highly sensitive to these kinds of report.

Whatever their current situation, the fact is that these 250,000 Azerbaijanis are refugees and their plight should not be glibly dismissed in this way.

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