Armenia has been an exemplary global citizen in its humanitarian responseto take in Syrian refugees as a regional host country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. According to the Government of Armenia (GoA), over 20,000 Syrian-Armenian refugees have sought refuge in Armenia since 2011. According to a published study by the European Friends of Armenia, Armenia hosted six Syrian refugees per 1,000 nationals—a ratio much higher than many European countries or the US, especially noteworthy given the country’s economic circumstance.
The Government of Armenia, along with international organizations operating in Armenia and certain Diasporan Armenian groups have invested serious efforts to confront challenges in the last 6 years. Compared to earlier waves of refugees that Armenia faced (i.e. hundreds of thousands of refugees from the conflict with Azerbaijan in the early 90s or hundreds of refugees resulting from the Iraq war), Armenia seemed to have been better organized this time around. But Armenians can still do better and more to assist refugees.
With no end in sight to the raging war, new refugees continue to arrive from Syria on a weekly basis to Armenia. The new refugees seem poorer and more traumatized than the earlier waves that sought refuge 2-3 years ago.
Armenian society seem to be showing continued commitment and moral courage towards the largest humanitarian crisis of our times. Just last week, the IDeA foundation, headed by Forbes listed billionaire Ruben Vardanyan announced that they will be generouslycontributing funds to join efforts to assist the plight of Syrian Armenian refugees. This week, President Sargsyan in a meeting with Syrian Armenian leaders in Yerevan reaffirmed Armenia's commitment to continue accepting and helping Syrian refugees.
Accepting refugees is only part of the solution. While the international community must come together to end the violence in Syria, Armenia needs to show leadership in the next phase of its efforts: execution towards a Country Plan to integrate Syrian refugees in the next 18-24 months. This should include a multi-year, multi-faceted plan, with a clear division of work between public and private institutions. Additionally, refugees are not one country’s or one continent’s problem; they are everyone’s problem in today's interconnected world. The international community, including the EU, US and the CIS need to assist Armenia as a regional host country during these challenging times.
Last February, under the brave leadership of Razmik Panossian from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the AGBU and Christoph Bierworth from the UNHCR, a strategy summit was hosted at the headquarters of the AGBU in Yerevan to address the challenges Armenia faced in integrating refugees. One of the key conclusions of the summit was the urgent need to draft a coordinated plan for the post humanitarian phase of the crisis.
We have recently learned with pleasure, about plans by the Government of Armenia (GoA) to embark on an effort to formulate a comprehensive strategy to address the different dimensions of the integration of Syrian refugees displaced from Syria in Armenia. While we have relentlessly been demanding a COUNTRY PLAN for quite some time, we nevertheless welcome this effort and remain Cautiously Optimistic.
The Armenian Redwood Project has long been advocating thought leadership & collaboration among various actors when dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. It has been disappointing - to say the least- not to see the type of timely leadership that AGBU's leaders (see historian Raymond Kevorkian webtalk here) and the heroes of the Near East Relief ( see our blog post here ) showed earlier in the 20th century during the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. The good news though is that its not too late to still make a difference in the lives of thousands of refugees and help them rebuild.
The Armenian Redwood Project looks forward to the collaboration of various stakeholders towards a comprehensive COUNTRY PLAN in Armenia to address the next phase of integrating Syrian refugees. We have continuously stated that silo Initiatives by various agencies after 5 years of war are sub-optimal. We need Armenian Organizations to collaboratively cooperate around a COUNTRY PLAN in order to deliver Institutional quality outcomes to refugees and make a difference. We are hopeful that once a plan is finalized soon, professional division of labor can be established between the GoA, specialized NGOs and International agencies and other stakeholders to execute in the next 2 years.
A comprehensive integration plan should most importantly address the need for affordable housing, economic inclusion and effective social services for refugees. Such an initiative, if executed well should also result in immense benefits for Armenia itself in the form of fresh/diverse human capital and modern social institutional capacity.
We want to end this blog post by providing perspective by pointing to a visual guide to refugee crises around the world recently published by the Washington Post. This should not be a surprise to Armenians who have themselves endured various migration waves throughout their turbulent history. Contemplating the continued unfolding of this global refugee crisis, we revert to our appeal made late in 2015 to collective Armenian leadership to continue to act on our moral contract as a refugee nation.
"We appeal to Armenian leadership across geographies in the hope that we can persuade them, and others through them, that it is time to prioritize addressing this crisis now and work through a unified matter. The Armenians remaining trapped in Syria, then also the Armenians trapped as refugees, need the Diaspora and the homeland, and the Spyurk & Haiastan need to help them. If they do so successfully, our people will help themselves – morally and existentially, and both the homeland and the Diaspora will be better able to see themselves as active agents of their own fate. If they fail, they will have failed not only our kin in need, but ourselves as a nation" - the Armenian Redwood Project, December 2015.
About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)
Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a defacto action oriented think tanks & a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists and organizations & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants.