“While my country is in turmoil, I will live here” – asylum seekers in Armenia
In 2019, 247 foreign citizens applied to the Migration Service of Armenia for asylum, 113 of which were granted the status of refugee.
Below – why and how people in need of asylum get into Armenia, how they are received here, what opportunities the state gives them, and what problems they have to solve for themselves.
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Nbibi Ive – from the Congo.
Nbibi lives in the Integration Center for foreigners granted refugee status in Armenia. He opens the door to his room with a wide smile and invites us to enter – in Armenian.
Two beds, a small table, suitcases, things scattered everywhere. Only his guitar is given a carefully selected place. He takes it carefully from his bed, and says that thanks to the guitar, he can earn a living in Armenia.
“I sing in pubs – in French, English and even Armenian. I sing songs of Charles Aznavour, Ruben Hakhverdyan. Armenians like it. It is not enough money to live, but there is nothing more to do,” says 36-year-old Nbibi Ive.
He moved to Armenia because in his homeland he was persecuted for his political views.
Here he received refugee status and has been living in a room provided by the migration service for a year now. He had never even heard of Armenia before, he just to be taken in to a country where his life would not be in danger.
“While my country is in turmoil, I will live here. I have many friends – mostly Armenians. We communicate in French, here I learned Armenian and English. On the street, sometimes they look at me somehow strangely, but people are not mean, they ask me where I come from, they ask to take pictures with me,” Ive says.
Refugees receive the same rights as the citizens of Armenia, the only restrictions are on voting rights and land ownership.
“If it is difficult for the citizens of Armenia to find a job, then naturally it is for refugees as well. Refugees and asylum seekers receive a certificate with which they can get a job, get a loan from a bank. Actually, this is a very progressive procedure,” explains Nelly Davtyan, responsible for public relations of the migration service.
But refugees often have problems with employers. Often, they simply do not recognize the certificate issued to the refugee. And the migration service is sometimes forced to confirm the validity of the document.
66-year-old Jamshid Bahari Derahshan is a Christian.
For this reason, he left Iran and sought asylum in Armenia. His family remained at home.
“I’ve been in Armenia for eight months. I am an English teacher by profession, but I don’t know if I can find a job here at my age. I like the country, the people. I am free here, but I need to solve the problem of work in order to be able to live,” says Damshid Bahari.
An asylum claim is considered within three months, after which a person receives a positive or negative response.
“For these hundred days, we provide not only shelter, but also hygiene items and food. The hostel is designed for 45-50 people. If a person is refused and appeals to the courts, this can last from three to four years. All this time the applicant remains in our care. During this period, he has the right to work and freedom of movement,” said Nelly Davtyan.
Said Shahriar (name changed) has been living in the center for asylum seekers for a hundred days.
Four years ago, he converted to Christianity, which is why he left Iran. First he moved to Turkey, and two years later to Armenia.
“I want to live in a safe country. I have come only recently to Armenia. I am waiting for an answer [on asylum], after which I will decide what to do next. I am a very good cook, I know the cuisines of different countries, I am thinking of finding work in Yerevan. Now I’m learning Armenian”, said Said, 35.
Refugees are more vulnerable than citizens of the country, although they are almost equal in terms of rights.
So says Anahit Hayrapetyan, coordinator for external relations of the Armenian office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
“They leave everything and come here, where new challenges await them: the phenomenon of being an outsider, the language barrier – the Armenian language is not easy, but it is obligatory when applying for a job. At what level do you need to know the language to get a job in the academic field or to carry out management in any company?
They may have had work in their country, but they were in danger. Here they are protected, but can’t work anywhere except for car washes. And employers still require diplomas. For example, there the man was a pianist, here he is required to have a diploma in order to accept work in a kindergarten, but he cannot even receive this document.”
Another resident of the integration center is Afghani Alahdat Bayanzey.
He moved to Armenia through Iran, and the border was crossed illegally, for which he served a sentence of three years. He was released four months ago.
“I learned Armenian in prison. After my release, I worked in a greenhouse for a daily fee. But now I am unemployed – in search of a new place. In my country it is restless, I do not want to return. I can do everything and am ready to do everything, if only somebody would take me in”, says Alahdat.
The state does not help refugees find a job.
“We just solve the housing problem. We give them the opportunity to live for free in an integration center for a year. After that, we provide the amount for renting housing in the amount of 60 thousand drams [approximately $125] for nine months.
To address the issue of employment, the realization of the rights of refugees, we turn to public organizations. We already teach refugees as recognized refugees and organize courses to help them get to know Armenia better, to understand where they have come,” says Nelli Davtyan, responsible for public relations of the migration service.
Iranian Babak Ashtari has been living in Armenia for 13 years.
He knows that it is difficult for locals to find work here:
“But if you decide to stay in Armenia, you need to integrate and try to solve the problem with work.”
He is also a Christian, therefore he left Iran. At home, Babak worked as a journalist. In Armenia, he mastered a new profession, and now works in the field of information technology.
Several public organizations, as well as the Armenian Red Cross Society, implement refugee assistance programs. They help one to establish a business, others are provided with professional skills as hairdressers, in kitchens and sewing.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the migration service advise them, help them to acquire new knowledge, and improve their qualifications.
“But once you lose feedback with them for just a second, their rights begin to be violated. Employers are breaking the law. This is unacceptable discrimination. Without even looking at an identity card or status certificate, not knowing the laws, they refuse to hire refugees. And our social worker, together with a lawyer, goes to the employer to explain the law and demand justice,” says Anahit Hayrapetyan, coordinator for external relations of the Armenian office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.