High Commissioner to visit to southern Caucasus

Briefing Notes, 15 August 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 August 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today, High Commissioner António Guterres starts a six-day mission to the southern Caucasus, visiting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. In April, the High Commissioner visited the Russian Federation including the northern Caucasus republics of North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia and Chechnya. During his three-nation tour Guterres is scheduled to meet senior government officials, refugees and displaced people.

The southern Caucasus region, with over one million internally displaced persons and refugees, is a key operational area for UNHCR in Europe with an overall annual budget of US$ 9.4 million. The mission will focus on strengthening UNHCR's supportive role in ongoing conflict resolution efforts and political dialogue in the region. Peaceful settlements and stability would allow refugees and internally displaced people to return and reintegrate.

Displacement in the southern Caucasus region is the result of protracted conflicts. In Azerbaijan and Armenia the displacement is linked to a 15 year unsettled dispute and the future status of the Nagorno Karabakh region. In Georgia, UNHCR is part of two parallel peace processes currently under way in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia.

UNHCR is ready to be actively involved in the peace process and develop, together with the concerned governments, a framework plan for the return in the event of a settlement.

During his visit Guterres, is expected to meet Chechen refugees in Baku, Azerbaijan, as well as in the Pankisi valley in Georgia. There are about 1,800 Chechen refugees in Georgia and some 2,200 in Azerbaijan. Finding long-lasting solutions for this group has been extremely difficult because of very limited returns and few possibilities for integration or resettlement. We encourage governments in the region to continue providing international protection to Chechen refugees in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention and are ready to help build and strengthen national asylum systems.

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