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Karabakh Emergency Escalates, Thousands Still Pouring Into Armenia: UN Agencies

Over 88,000 refugees from the Karabakh region have fled to Armenia in less than a week and humanitarian needs are surging, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

Some 65,000 have already been registered at Government-run centres where long lines have formed.

Late on Friday, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi tweeted that more than 100,000 refugees had now arrived in Armenia from Karabakh. 

Anxiety and fear

The agency is supporting the refugees with core relief items, said agency representative in Armenia Kavita Belani, who has been on the ground since day one of the crisis.

“People are tired. This is a situation where they’ve lived under nine months of blockade. When they come in, they’re full of anxiety, they’re scared, they’re frightened and they want answers as to what’s going to happen next.”

Ms. Belani said that the most urgent needs included psychosocial support, medication and shelter for everybody, given the high volume of arrivals, as well as targeted support for the most vulnerable: the elderly and children.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told reporters in Geneva that 30 per cent of those arriving are minors and many have been separated from their families.

UN response in full gear

UNICEF is working with the authorities to make sure that family tracing is done right away so that the youngsters can be reunited with their relatives.

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UNHCR is leading the inter-agency refugee response and coordination to complement the Armenian Government’s efforts, Ms. Belani said, and an appeal for funding is being finalized.

She stressed that while the response plan was for a duration of six months, the UN was already thinking of longer-term support to help Armenia integrate the new arrivals.

Earlier this week, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, reiterated her “strong concern” over the ongoing situation and called for “all efforts to be made” to ensure the protection and human rights of the ethnic Armenian population who remain in the area and of those who have left.

Family-tracing

A major concern for humanitarians is that many children have been separated from their families, said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe.

"So we are working in providing first of all psychosocial support and working with the ministries and local authorities as well to make sure that family-tracing is done immediately and families can unite,” 

Since Sunday, Armenian villages near the border with the Karabakh region have turned into makeshift refugee camps.

Some of those seeking shelter had only minutes to pack to leave by cars, buses and construction trucks, they said.  While many refugees expressed relief at reaching Armenia from Azerbaijan, they remain traumatized and confused about the future, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“It was so evident on everyone – children, men, women, elderly – the expressions on the faces of those who walk into registration points speak volumes,” said IFRC’s Hicham Diab, speaking from Armenia’s capital Yerevan.

Each face tells a story

“Each face tells a story of hardship, but also of hope, knowing they are in a place where they can receive aid.”

The desperate situation was compounded by an explosion on Monday at a fuel depot in the Karabakh region that killed at least 68 people, according to local authorities.

An additional 105 people are still missing following the blast, which reportedly occurred as many people were lining up to get fuel to help them leave.

“The priority of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in recent days has been on life-saving activities, including the transfer of the wounded to hospitals into Armenia for treatment and bringing in medical supplies,” said Carlos Morazzani, ICRC Operations Manager.

“Over the past week we have transferred around 130 people for medical care and after the explosion…we increased our engagement with all regional authorities.”

UN operation expands

The UN team in Armenia, led by acting Resident Coordinator Nanna Skau, is working with the Government to support the rapidly rising influx.

According to the latest official figures around 93,000 people have crossed into Armenia. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting thousands of women in transit centres in the southeastern regions of Syunik and Vayots Dzor with 8,000 dignity kits, including drinking water, sanitary pads and soap.

Some 150,000 health kits have been distributed to support refugees and host communities.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has placed two mobile warehouses in Goris for non-food storage and a mobile kitchen serving up to 3,000 people every day.

The agency’s also delivered around 4,000 food parcels  to support 16,000 people in need in the Syunik region.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) says it is preparing to launch a psychosocial support scheme to cover the needs of over 12,000 refugees.

UN team heads to region

Briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters the UN Spokesperson announced the Azerbaijani Government had agreed to allow the deployment of a UN mission to the region, due to take place over the weekend.

It would mark the first time in around 30 years that UN teams have gained access, he said.

Led by a senior official from the UN aid coordination office (OCHA) and the UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan, Mr. Dujarric said it would include a technical team from OCHA.

“It's very important that we will be able to get in”, he added.

“While there, the team will seek to assess the situation on the ground and identify the humanitarian needs with both for both people remaining and the people that are on the move.”

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