Shake Avoyan in Yerevan, Harry Tamrazian in Prague
The number of Armenian refugees asking asylum abroad has substantially declined for the six months of 2001, said Gagik Yeganian, the head of the Department of Migration and Refugee issues of the Armenian government. According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), in the first half of 2001, more than 1900 Armenian citizens were seeking asylum in 28 countries. Most Armenian asylum seekers went to the United States, where there is a large Armenian Community.
More than 530 Armenian refugees have applied for asylum in the United States. The countries of the Western and Central Europe were the second favored destination of Armenian refugees. UNHCR databank shows that 228 Armenians, who felt discriminated in their homeland, have asked for refugee status in Germany. The newly emerged central European free market democracies, such as Czech Republic, are becoming an attractive place for Armenian refugees. According to UN statistics, more than 200 Armenian citizens have applied for asylum in Czech Republic.
The United Nation Commission for Human Rights has criticized recently the Western Countries and the Unites States for growing intolerance toward refugees and immigrants. The new tougher immigration laws enacted by these countries made more difficult for refugees to win their asylum cases. Undocumented illegal refugees discovered within the United States can be returned to their home country without a hearing unless they can prove they entered legally or have resided for 2 years or more within the United States.
The refugees from Armenia are no exception and the emigration authorities of these countries in most cases refuse to grant an asylum. According to UNCHR Yerevan office, the strict emigration policy of the Western countries is the main reason behind declining number of Armenian asylum seekers.
The head of the Department of Migration and Refugee issues Gagik Yeganian says it is also hard for Armenian immigrants to get an asylum hearings, because these countries consider Armenia as a country which is mostly free from political, ethnic or religious persecutions, the strongest arguments for immigrants to get an asylum in foreign countries.
However, some Armenian immigrants, who claimed that they were prosecuted for their homosexual orientation, had successful hearings in the United States and Netherlands. According to UNHCR statistics, about 170 Armenian immigrants are currently seeking an asylum in Netherlands claiming that they were prosecuted in Armenia for being homosexuals. But the number of deported Armenian immigrants is much higher. In 2001 more than 1200 Armenians were returned Armenia by the immigration authorities of Netherlands and Belgium.
During last several years Armenia has attracted a number of refugees from Africa and Middle East. According to Gagik Yeganian, only 6 asylum seekers were granted a refugee status. More than 100 foreigners from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali and other African nations have applied for asylum in Armenia. But Armenian authorities refused to grant refugee status considering them as economic migrants. However, the Armenian government didn't deport them to their home countries, because it had no financial and other resources to organize a deportation.