Migrant Crisis: Armenia draws Europe’s attention to its efforts on Syrian refugees

While Europe is grappling with one of its most serious recent migrant crises caused by the influx of refugees and asylum seekers from war-torn Syria, the South Caucasus nation of Armenia says it is also making a contribution to dealing with the situation.

In fact, according to Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Armenia is the third largest per capita recipient of Syrian refugees in Europe.

Speaking at a ministerial meeting of the European People’s Party in Vienna, Austria, on March 13, Nalbandian said: “"Armenia has sheltered nearly 20 thousand refugees from Syria, thus making our country the third largest recipient of Syrian refugees in Europe on per capita basis.”

Nalbandian stressed that in order to find solutions to the issues on migration, first of all it is necessary to track reasons behind it. In this context, the minister attached importance to united fight against terrorism, process of political resolution of the crisis in Syria.

Before that, Armenia’s top diplomat addressed the issue at his meeting with Federica Mogherini, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Police and Vice President of the European Commission, who paid a visit to Yerevan on March 1.

Director of the Institute of International and Security Affairs Stepan Safaryan sees Nalbandian’s statements as an attempt to attract financial means for Armenia. The political analyst says he was among the first who once criticized the Armenian authorities for not taking part in international discussions on Syria.

“For example, Armenia did not try in any way to become a party in international talks on Syria despite the fact that it has a Diaspora in that country and is, in fact, a Middle Eastern nation. In this sense, our authorities has, unfortunately, stepped aside,” Safaryan told ArmeniaNow.

“And now that our authorities see that Turkey is, roughly speaking, managing to bring in money for Syrian refugees, they are trying to show that something is being done in Armenia as well and that we need some assistance, too,” the analyst added, describing such steps as belated.

Safaryan believes that the most important thing for Armenia today is to try to encourage Syrian Armenians who fled hostilities in their country to stay on in Armenia. In the recent period quite a few refugee families have reportedly been moving elsewhere from Armenia having encountered difficult social and economic conditions as well as some bureaucratic obstacles in their historical homeland.

According to various estimations, some 18,000-20,000 Syrian refugees, mostly ethnic Armenians or Syrians in mixed marriages, came to Armenia in the period of 2012-2015. During the same period, an estimated 5,000 of them also left Armenia for other countries. At present, the number of Syrian refugees in Armenia is estimated at about 13,000-16,000. Most of them live in capital Yerevan.

The Armenian government began to take legal steps to assist ethnic Armenians from Syria still in the summer of 2012 when first groups of refugees began to arrive in the country. For example, documentation procedures were streamlined for Syrian Armenians, Syrian Armenian students were exempted from tuition fees, businesses were provided with opportunities to receive preferential loans, etc.

A new wave of Syrian Armenian immigration into Armenia was observed in 2015 when fighting intensified in Syria, particularly around Aleppo and other cities and towns where a majority of Armenians live.

According to Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry, more than 2,000 Syrian Armenians took refuge in Armenia in 2015 alone.