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Armenia Inter-agency Response Plan Update 2021 (October 2020 - December 2021)

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UNCT Armenia
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Introduction

The initial Inter Agency Response Plan (IARP) was for a period of nine months (October 2020 – June 2021) to coordinate the response to meet the needs of 90,000 persons in a refugee-like situation who arrived in Armenia as a consequence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since then, many of these individuals have returned and, as of end of June 2021, 36,989 individuals remain in a refugee-like situation1 in the ten regions of the country² and Yerevan. IARP partners have therefore updated their operational approach based on the remaining refugee-like population as well as their newly identified needs and are enhancing the multisectoral response required to provide the necessary assistance to the estimated remaining 37,000 individuals in refugee-like situation as well as the host community in Armenia. With this updated interagency plan, which covers the period from July to December 2021, a total of 15 IARP partners are appealing for US$ 20,233,689.

Situation Update

While the ceasefire agreement is still holding, concerns have emerged in recent months following reports of sporadic incidents of intimidation or violence that have prompted questions around security conditions in areas of origin, impacting the willingness or capacity of some people to return.

According to the protection needs assessments³ conducted by UNHCR and its partners in July-August 2021, 94 per cent of respondents declared that they preferred to remain in Armenia or were unsure about their prospects for return. These intentions had already been captured by other Protection Needs assessments conducted earlier during the year and also confirmed by the Multisectoral Needs Assessment (MSNA) carried out in March-April, in which 94 per cent of interviewees confirmed their intention not to move or were undecided.

Since the onset of the emergency in the fall of 2020, the Government of Armenia, at both the national and local levels, has provided critical support to the new arrivals, including space in communal shelters and 18 different cash assistance programmes.

Host communities also played a critical role in welcoming the refugee-like population, sharing their housing, food and other resources. However, the conflict severely impacted the displaced and host community populations in Armenia, with a notable increase in reported physical, social and mental trauma, as well as financial challenges. In this context, the Government and civil society faced increasing difficulties in coordinating, financing and addressing essential needs.

Acute protection risks were identified, especially among the most vulnerable individuals, those with specific needs, such as older persons without support, persons with disabilities and pregnant women, who require special attention and assistance. Key findings of the monitoring exercises also indicated the need for continuous awarenessraising among the refugee-like population about their access to rights, public services and other assistance programmes.

Access to information remains vital as people need to know how to apply for and where to access services, including health care, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), documentation, and other social protection services.⁴ The refugee-like population continued to report lack of information among the main reasons for not approaching the authorities to report missing documents or not accessing appropriate health care.⁵ MHPSS also remains one of the gaps highlighted by the protection needs assessments: 72 per cent of persons in a refugee-like situation reported a relative showing signs of stress and 52 per cent noticed that their children showed signs of stress and behavioural change. Interviewees referred to their inability to return home, loss of property, and loss of hope for the future as the top three sources of anxiety.

Shelter support remains the top priority cited by the refugee-like population, according to the most recent humanitarian needs assessments.⁶ Lack of space, inadequate water or bathroom facilities, and lack of heating were the top three shelter-related concerns raised by the refugee-like population; whereas host families raised issues around lack of privacy/dignity and the need to address deteriorating infrastructure and support to cover utility costs.⁷ Compared to December 2020, the proportion of persons in a refugee-like situation paying rent increased, reaching 95 per cent by August 2021, while 2 per cent of the refugee-like population continues to be hosted in collective shelters, suggesting a need for further shelter support.⁸ Non-food items (NFIs), especially clothing and household items such as bedding and cooking utensils, will also still be required in the coming months, as well as additional support to address specific winter-related needs.

Access to education has stabilized since the onset of the emergency: formal education is now available to 80 per cent of the refugee-like population close to their places of residence.
Around 94 per cent of households in a refugeelike situation have school-aged children attending formal education programmes.10 Both refugee-like and host communities have similar levels of access to education, mostly thanks to the integration of all children living in a refugee-like situation in public preschool, secondary and higher education.
However, IARP partners need to continue supporting the capacity of the education sector and ensuring continuity of education by providing relevant assistance. This will enable all children to attend school during their displacement and provide a sense of stability, structure and hope for the future.

Following a ground-breaking decision by the Government, primary health services are provided free of charge to all citizens of Armenia, including the refugee-like population. This decision enabled them to access primary health facilities in their area of temporary residence and immediate medical care without special registration procedures. Multiple health partners provided significant quantities of medication and supplies during the first nine months of the response, which helped adequately meet health-related needs. Yet, it remains essential to ensure, in coordination with the Government and IARP partners, that medical supplies are efficiently distributed at primary health centres (PHCs), and that overall access and quality of services, especially in rural PHCs, are improved.

Regarding food security, only 1 per cent of the refugee-like population is still severely food insecure, while 15 per cent is moderately food insecure, according to the latest assessments.
Food ranks fifth among priority needs identified in the July-August Protection Needs Assessments. As the price of a basic food basket continues to rise, and given the challenging economic context, food insecure persons in a refugee-like situation and those at risk of food insecurity still need support, especially individuals with specific nutritional needs, including women of childbearing age and infants.11 Specific nutrition support must also be provided to prevent micro-nutritional deficiencies, which would otherwise negatively impact development and health.

The socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 and the aftermath of conflict have affected economic activity in several communities.12 The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resulted in damage to infrastructure, disruption of markets, lack of access to farmland, loss of assets and displacement, which have collectively impacted the lives of both the displaced population and host community. The socioeconomic situation in Armenia was already fragile prior to the conflict and continues to be so nine months after the arrival of the refugee-like population, compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Available resources have been further stretched, as have livelihood and employment opportunities in the cities and towns where the displaced population has settled.

Of high concern is also the increasing debt burden observed between December 2020 and March/ April 2021, which is impacting local communities’ ability to host the refugee-like population. According to the second round of the MSNA, 59 per cent of host households reported having debts averaging AMD 1 million (approximately US$ 1,920). Similarly, the Protection Needs Assessments indicated that in March-April 2021, 32 per cent of refugee-like households reported having generated debts, compared to 8 per cent in December 2020.

Protection Needs Assessments findings also indicate that 76 per cent of respondents in a refugee-like situation were unemployed during the previous six months. Targeted early recovery and livelihood interventions that promote long-term selfreliance are therefore essential to gradually phaseout the humanitarian response and mainstream development assistance to the refugee-like population likely to remain in Armenia.

It is crucial to further support and protect the income-generating assets of the refugee-like population, including their livestock and poultry, for them to reduce reliance on food assistance and humanitarian aid, curb the recent trend of increasing debt, generate income and develop a buffer against potential future shocks.

According to the April vulnerability assessment, more than 50 per cent of the refugee-like population used crisis coping mechanisms to overcome shocks from the effects of displacement and the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing their expenses on health and education, selling productive assets, and becoming dependent on support from aid agencies or neighbours.

In particular, livelihood/income generating interventions are needed for the refugee-like population, especially those who are severely or moderately food insecure or those at risk of food insecurity, to reduce their dependence on food assistance and develop a buffer against additional shocks.