- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 12, 2004

Home Assistance: Program aims to help emigrants stay in Armenia

The State Committee on Refugees and Migration of Armenia and the Swiss Federal Office on Refugees have started (on March 1) a trial program for encouraging illegal emigrants to return and stay in Armenia.
According to statistics about 1 million people have left Armenia since independence..

According to statistics, some 800,000 to 1 million citizens have left Armenia since independence. The majority have entered and stayed in countries illegally.

“Research shows that after returning to the homeland residents for some reasons again illegally go back to different places,” says the head of the reintegration assistance program Shoghik Sargsyan. “This program should prevent it.”

The program, the first of its kind in Armenia – and part of an overall campaign to reduce migration – will last for one year and cost $100,000.

Fifty people seeking asylum in Switzerland , whose requests were denied, will be voluntary involved in the program and will return to Armenia within some periods of time. Questionnaires distributed among the asylum seekers will help determine assistance that would make it attractive for them to return.

Sargsyan says those returning will be offered loans of up to $4,000 that would be interest free for one year.

“Credits will be granted in accordance with special business programs which we are preparing together with the National Center of Development for Small and Medium Businesses. Educational programs that children haven't completely finished will be restored for them. Those who will wish to go through specialized retraining courses, will be offered such possibility.”

Sargsyan says they will also be provided with jobs paying $150 per month. An employer giving such a job to a returning emigrant would be eligible to receive a stipend of about $700.

“In any country huge amounts of money are spent on illegal migrants,” says head of Migration Policy Department of the State Committee on Refugees and Migration of Armenia Irina Davtyan. “The cluster program offered to allot some of this money to countries where emigrants are from, so that some program could be carried out for them. Mainly everything depends on work. If they have work they will never leave the country again.”

The program also includes strengthening of cadres and technical support to organizations dealing with these issues as well as data exchange between such services.

According to Davtyan, in comparison with 2002, the number of Armenians seeking asylum abroad during the first half of 2003 decreased by 50 percent and it coincides with the activity of the Center for serving migrants.

To legally reside in a foreign country a person should have a valid visa, a residence permit and a work permit.

Davtyan says the evidence of their efforts to better serve potential emigrants is the changing figures..

Davtyan says that many Armenian emigrants violate all three requirements: “They enter the country illegally, stay there illegally and work there illegally.”

In 2000, Armenia was steadily at 14 th or 15 th place among countries the Top 20 countries with citizens seeking asylum. It was second (behind Russia ) in CIS countries. But by 2002, it had dropped from the Top 20, and gave way to Georgia in the standing of CIS countries.

Davtyan says the change in figures reflects efforts created to better serve potential emigrants.

The new arrangement with the Swiss is part of a cluster program initiated in 2001 between five Western-European countries and the Caucasus countries. Setting up a center to serve migrants was the first step of the initiative.

“We undertake obligations to receive our citizens back,” Davtyan says. “The advantage of the program is that the country obliges to help you in rendering financial assistance to those who return back to their homelands.”

Armenia has concluded readmission agreements with Switzerland , Denmark and Lithuania and is negotiating such programs with Czech Republic , Ukraine , Germany and Norway .

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Flying High

In anticipation of this weekend's visit by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, workers put up flags on Mashtots Avenue in Yerevan. At first, Armenian and Georgian flags were placed, but the Georgian ones had to come down when it was discovered that the design was wrong.



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