New Refugee Flows: Karabakh and Ethiopia
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Nov 2020
13 Nov 2020 – The recent armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia has led to a flow of refugees toward Armenia and to a lesser extent toward Russia. In addition, there have been persons displaced within Nagorno-Karabakh itself. These refugee flows recall the earlier refugee exodus and displacement of populations, mostly Azeri from Nagorno-Karabakh during the 1992-1994 conflict which led to the independent status of the largely Armenian-populated Karabakh. Before the war started in 1992 as part of the breakup of the Soviet Union, there had been an exodus, estimated as 300,000 Armenians who had been working in the oil industry who left Azerbaijan. Nearly the same number, 250,000 Azeri left the Soviet Republic of Armenia.
In addition to the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, there has just begun on 4 November 2020 an armed conflict between the forces of the central government of Ethiopia and the semi-autonomous province of Tigray. There are already a good number of refugees going to neighboring Sudan as well as persons going to other provinces within Ethiopia. There is a real danger that the violence will spread as some of the other 10 semi-autonomous provinces into which Ethiopia is structured support the Tigray position on greater autonomy within the federal system. Despite the ethnic overtones of the conflict, some believe that much of the animosities were created by irresponsible and inflammatory propaganda that blamed the country’s problems on a scapegoat ethnic group.
While international humanitarian law concerning refugees is clearly set out in the refugee conventions ratified after the Second World War, the status of the internally displaced is less clear although there has been growing attention within the U.N. system to the internally displaced. (1) The U.N. World Food sProgramme has responsibility for food aid, but both Nagorno-Karabakh and Tigray are difficult to reach. For the moment, communications with Tigray have been cut. Thus, it is difficult to map the needs. Even before the fighting began, there were real food shortages in Tigray. Much of the Horn of Africa such as Somalia, Sudan and Uganda has been impacted by armed conflict with refugees and internally displaced persons.
Prolonged displacement of persons can lead to a breakdown of society and an increase in gender-based violence and violence against children.
In both Nagorno-Karabakh and Ethiopia, there has been a history of conflict and failed efforts at mediation and other forms of conflict resolution.
It is certain that there are no easy solutions to the problem of mass exodus. There will have to be complex changes in attitudes and values so that we see ourselves as world citizens with a joint responsibility to care for the population of the Planet. The world community needs to develop more adequate early warning systems so that preventive action can be undertaken before the outbreak of destructive violence. Peace needs peacemakers; there is a need to train more adequate humanitarian workers so as to be able to draw more quickly upon those individuals with the necessary skill and experience.
See Roberta Cohen and Francis M. Deng (Eds) The Forsaken People: Case Studies of the Internally Displaced (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998)
René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.