Refugees Magazine, 1 September 1997
It is one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, as many as nine million people have been on the move at any one time within the successor nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], trekking in as many directions as there are points on the compass; civilians fleeing conflict, economic and ecological migrants and people returning to their homes of ethnic origin, some after 50 years in exile.
The overall numbers of displaced people changed only slightly during 1997. Several CIS states began to grapple with the problem of the displaced populations, but elsewhere across a vast landscape stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, several longtime crises continued to simmer.
The troubles in Chechnya subsided following a 1996 ceasefire and UNHCR closed its operation in the neighbouring autonomous republic of Daghestan after assisting the bulk of the displaced population there to go home to Chechnya. About half of the estimated 500,000 Tatars deported by Stalin in 1944 had returned to their native Crimea in Ukraine by 1997 and the government agreed to speed up the Tatars reintegration by easing its strict citizenship law. In Central Asia, the last of an estimated 60,000 people who fled the 1992-93 civil war in Tajikistan, were returning home from northern Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan joined the Russian Federation,Tajikistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan in ratifying the 1951 Convention on Refugees and Turkmenistan was completing the process.
But some regional challenges remain enormous. An estimated 400,000 people were trapped in a succession of simmering inter-related conflicts in the Trans-Caucasus republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and nearby Russian autonomous republics. Peace in Chechnya was fragile at best and Tajikistan desperately needed international aid to patch the country together again after its protracted civil conflict.
There were other headaches. Many ethnic returnees found it difficult to integrate socially and economically; refugees faced acute legal and economic problems; and the relentless flow of illegal migrants strained both the resources and relations of regional countries.
John Horekens, UNHCR's Director for Europe, said that the CIS countries had made progress last year and there were even a few positive signs in efforts to successfully resolve the seemingly intractable problems in Georgia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. He added, however, these states would all need continued strong backing from the international community for the forseeable future.
Source: Refugees Magazine issue 109 (1997)