International response to deepening crisis
Aid agencies estimate that more than 100,000 men, women and children are currently seeking shelter in the South Caucasus following their rapid exit from the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region.
The area lies within Azerbaijan but has long been an enclave for Armenians leaving there. Recent fighting has seen the population come under Azerbaijan control.
Illustration: Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). The wider Armenia-Azerbaijan area borders with Russia, Turkey and Iran. Illustration: Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.
It comes after a ceasefire which saw separatists lay down their weapons. The result was a clammer for the border as Armenians became concerned for their safety under Azerbaijan rule.
‘This decades-long conflict, which has flared up again, has displaced many thousands of people,’ says Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
‘Our teams are on the ground, trying to provide immediate assistance. We need to make sure civilians are protected and humanitarian assistance can reach those in need.’
Queues have been quickly building up at the border and an international aid effort has been launched to try to help people flooding into Armenia.
‘UNHCR teams have been on the ground, at the border since day one, when the first groups of refugees arrived exhausted, frightened and apprehensive about the future,’ explains Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the United Nations’ Secretary-General.
‘UNHCR is working with the Government on technical equipment, including laptops, tablets and other items to facilitate the registration of people.’
Hygiene kits and hot meals
The UNHCR says refugees are mainly arriving in the Syunik region of Southern Armenia. The World Food Programme is on the ground to provide food and hot meals alongside teams from UNICEF.
Eight thousand ‘dignity kits’ have been handed out which provide recipients with drinking water, sanitary pads and soap. Around 150,000 health kits have been distributed to refugees.
The United Nations says the majority of arrivals are vulnerable, including mainly older people, women and children.
Aid agencies say people arriving at the borders are exhausted with lots of refugees requiring some level of medical help.
There is increasing concern around the impact of freezing night time temperatures on refugees with no-where to go. Local people are reported to be helping the situation by providing rooms for them.
The UNHCR has provided non-food items such as foldable beds and mattresses for new arrivals.