By Anna Saghabalian
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has praised the efforts of the Armenian government to create conditions that promote the integration of refugees into society.
Antonio Gutierrez, paying his first visit to the region, reiterated on Monday that granting citizenship is the best tool for protecting refugees if the ultimate goal of the government is to ensure their full integration into society.
“I hope it is the ultimate goal both in Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he told a press conference in Yerevan.
Gutierrez stressed the high level of his agency’s cooperation with Armenia and expressed his particular satisfaction with the efforts of the country’s authorities to create a legislative and institutional framework for immigrants and asylum-seekers, extending special thanks to the Armenian government for accepting refugees from Lebanon.
For his part, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that the UNHCR Office has worked in Armenia for years and has been a great help to the Armenian government to solve different problems connected with refugees.
“Although we are a non-political agency, we are extremely interested in the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict,” Gutierrez said. “We think that the agreements that will allow displaced people to return to the places of their former residence can become an element of mutual trust that in turn can promote an ultimate solution to the problem in the future.”
Regarding the possibility of refugees recovering their lost property or getting compensation for that, Gutierrez said: “We think that one of the positive things of the peaceful solution could be the restoration of property rights on both sides. If we speak about the return of refugees, it could be the restoration of their ownership rights. If the return is not on the cards, then it can be solved through compensation.”
Gutierrez denied the recent Azeri press reports that quoted him as calling the policy of the Armenian government related to refugees a failure.
He also denied having made a series of other statements that appeared in the Azeri press and were ascribed to him.
In particular, the Azeri media quoted Gutierrez as saying that the situation with forcibly displaced people in Azerbaijan was the gravest in the world.
“I couldn’t have said such a thing, as it is a common knowledge that this problem is much bigger in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan or Colombia than in Azerbaijan,” he said.
Gutierrez said that instead of the word ‘excellent’ he used the expression ‘more mature’ to describe the UNCHR’s relations with Azerbaijan and stressed that he was “careful enough never to use the word ‘Armenia’ in his press conference in Baku.
To a reporter’s question to share his impressions of the refugee camps in Azerbaijan, Gutierrez said: “The only thing that I can tell you is that necessary investments are being made in Azerbaijan to create new homes for refugees. There are still people who live in very poor conditions in both countries, but I can say for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia that the governments in these countries take very seriously the necessity of improving the situation of refugees living in extreme conditions.”