By Nane Atshemian
The number of Armenians seeking asylum abroad, mainly for economic reasons, has shrunk considerably in recent years, reflecting improved economic conditions in their country, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
“Whereas until 2001 between 9,000 and 9,500 citizens of Armenia were applying for asylum abroad each year, their number was down to 6,000-6,500 last year,” Gagik Yeganian, head of the Armenian government Department on Migration and Refugee Affairs, told a seminar in Yerevan.
Yeganian said that for the first time since Armenia’s independence the government has registered more arrivals of Armenian citizens to the country than departures from it in the last two years. He admitted that despite the overall drop in Armenian labor out-migration, scores of people continue to leave the country, both on a permanent and temporary basis, in search of employment abroad.
Hundreds of thousands of Armenians have done so since the economic slump of the early 1990s that was triggered by the Soviet collapse and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Most of them now live in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. The number of Armenians living in the United States and Europe is also significant.
A small percentage of them began returning to their homeland several years ago, buoyed by its slow economic recovery. The modest repatriation was the main theme of the seminar organized by the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Danish Refugee Council.
Yeganian shared local and international migration experts’ concerns about the difficult reintegration of the returnees into Armenian society, saying that a large part of them choose to hit the road again. He revealed in particular that 92 percent of some 1,500 Armenians expelled from Germany 1997 emigrated again within less than two years.
“We got the same picture as a result of another study conducted in 2002,” said Yeganian. “It showed that the majority of returnees want to go back to Europe because they have trouble re-integrating themselves into Armenia.”
“I personally know struggling families who have returned from abroad,” said Carel Hofstra, an OSCE official in Yerevan. “Having sold everything to emigrate, they now have to cope with both losing hope for a better life and the challenge of reintegrating themselves into Armenian society. They are in serious need of assistance.”
The problem was also highlighted last December by the Swiss non-governmental organization CIMERA which presented the findings of its survey conducted among 17 Armenian families that have repatriated in recent years. Most of them were found to be unhappy with life in their country, mainly citing a lack of jobs.