By Shakeh Avoyan
A plane load of about a hundred people landed in Yerevan early on Saturday in what officials described as the second forced repatriation of Armenian nationals from Turkmenistan in just over a year.
The airlift was organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the financial assistance of the British and Dutch governments.
Officials at Armenia’s Department on Migration and Refugees said the 92 Armenians have lived in Turkmenistan for over a decade and decided to return to their country after failing to extend their residency and work permits. The Turkmen immigration rules were reportedly tightened last year by the autocratic President Saparmurat Niyazov.
The IOM, which deals with global migration flows and problems arising from them, already helped to repatriate 113 Armenians from Turkmenistan in November 2002. It is not clear how many of them still live in the natural gas and oil-rich Central Asian state where average income is hardly higher than in Armenia. Presumably, many of those who stay on run small businesses.
The weekend repatriation highlighted one of the gravest consequences of Armenia’s tortuous transition to a market-based economy: the out-migration of hundreds of thousands of people looking for employment. The vast majority of them have ended up in Russia, Western Europe and the United States.
The Armenian migration agency estimates that between 8,000 and 9,000 Armenians ask for asylum in the West and only about a hundred of them are expelled home each year. According to the head of the department, Gagik Yeganian, many of them falsely claim to have faced government persecution at home in order to clinch a residency permit. He said it is not uncommon for them to try to pass themselves off as homosexuals or members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses group that still has no legal status in Armenia.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Yeganian also revealed that the last three years have seen a considerable rise in the number of Armenian asylum-seekers in the Central European nations like Austria and the Czech Republic. He said he believes that they are misled and transported there by “organized criminal elements.”
Reports from neighboring Slovakia say immigration authorities there received 758 requests for asylum from Armenian citizens last year.