APA presents an interview with Ali Hasanov, Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, Chairman of the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs
Q: To date, 97 modern settlements for refugees and IDPs have been built in Azerbaijan. Nearly 53,000 families – 265,000 people – were moved to these settlements. How many IDPs need to get their housing conditions improved?
A: Today, 343,000 IDPs live in difficult conditions, and there is a need to provide them with new apartments. Many of them live in buildings in disrepair in the cities of Baku, Sumgayit and Ganja. For this reason, First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva first instructed to relocate IDPs living in buildings that fell into disrepair. 11,000 IDP families – nearly 60,000 people – live in buildings in disrepair in Baku. The Ministry of Emergency Situations conducted technical safety monitoring of buildings where 4,000 of 11,000 IDP families live. According to the monitoring results, it is impossible to live in these buildings. Therefore, Mehriban Aliyeva first instructed to relocate these families. Later, the process of resettling the remaining 7,000 families will begin.
The president increased the amount of funds allocated from the State Oil Fund with a view to provide 343,000 IDPs with apartments. The amount will be increased from 90 to 200 million manats. New settlements for IDPs will be built around Baku and districts. Before the drop in oil prices, 300 million manats were allocated for the construction of settlements for IDPs. Every year we moved to new settlements 4,000 families – nearly 20,000 people. Unfortunately, this process was suspended after the fall in oil prices. From now on, this process will gradually be restored. We believe that there will be no problems with finances, because there is a need to provide 343,000 IDPs with new apartments.
Regular measures are being taken to improve the living conditions of IDPs. The rate of poverty among IDPs was 75 percent in 2003. As a result of measures taken by the state, this figure has dropped to 12 percent. At present, there are 380,000 IDPs, 200,000 of whom have permanent jobs. 160,000 have seasonal jobs, and 20,000 able-bodied IDPs await to be employed. In 2016, 765 manats was spent per IDP. This is the largest amount in conflict zones around the world. This amount should not be underestimated as its total is close to 300 million manats a year.
Previously, energy, gas, and water used to be paid for by the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs on behalf of IDPs. The president issued a decree this year and this became a monthly allowance for IDPs. It is also aimed at IDPs’ adaptation and self-sustenance. The process of return is beginning, and that step too is indicative of the president’s far-sightedness.
It would have been difficult for them if we had suddenly relocated them to a newly built area because they are protected here, the state is doing everything for them. It would be difficult for them to live on their own when they returned to their village. Therefore, the president issued a decree on the shift to the system of allowance. We pay every IDP 36 manats for energy, gas and water, the State Committee makes utility payments in places where there are no meters yet. Those IDPs are paid a monthly allowance of 20 manats. As the meters are put into operation, this will gradually be eliminated. For example, in Bilasuvar, there was dissatisfaction with electricity. But the problem has been solved already. We knew that these difficulties would occur. People have to adapt. Before becoming IDP, those people worked, lived, and sustained their family. However, over the past 20 years, these people have lost their habit of keeping the family independently. This habit should be restored. At present, we are dealing with this process. When we tell international humanitarian organizations, let's make such rehabilitation programs, they argue that there is no such thing in the world. We say to them that there was no beating of refugees with a baton, either. But it did happen. We say that as you can see Azerbaijan has solved the problems, now it is your turn to implement programs and projects on restoration of work habits. A number part of IDPs is a new generation. There are already 25-year-old IDPs. Internally displaced families have settled in different districts, lost their dialects, and adapted other local cuisine and traditions. Someone from Kalbajar was born and raised in Ujar, Zardab, Kurdamir and thus his health has changed in ecological environments. We say to international organizations that your job should be to spend money on such projects and work on rehabilitation projects, rather than to just come and help to get your salary
Q: One of the most serious problems is that IDPs have settled in the homes of local residents. We understand local residents too. Some of them have been living in rental homes for 25-30 years despite having their own. What steps are going to be taken by the state to eliminate this problem?
A: At the time some IDPs settled in homes owned by other citizens. I think the idea that IDPs have occupied apartments sounds wrong. Those apartments have not been occupied. I have never used that term. I have always said to the press that these apartments have not been occupied. Because of the incompetence of the previous government and today’s opposition, people found in a deserted place and settled therein. What did these people have to do? They had been displaced, not welcomed or accommodated. So whoever found a place started living there. Is this occupation? No. For example, when an officer or a citizen says that a house has been occupied by IDPs, I feel hurt and respond quickly. I say, sorry, your apartment has not been occupied. But we have to vacate those apartments. We’re talking about 6,000 apartments. We started this process 5 years ago. We vacated up to 70 apartments, but then the process was halted because of the financial crisis, the oil price decline. At the earliest of financial opportunity, the process of evacuation will be resumed.
Owners of these apartments are not to blame, I understand them. These people had waited for 20-30 years to receive an apartment, and before receiving an apartment order an IDP is placed there. I offer to free these apartments, to move IDPs to new ones in order to avoid a conflict between locals and them. As you can see, the state pays attention to this issue, so there are no such conflicts in the country.
I would like to talk about another issue. I am the chairman of the Humanitarian Commission. International organizations carry out programs for IDPs. For example, they provide water supply for IDPs in one village. I ask them how much money they have. They say they have $100,000 and 6 artesian wells are to be dug. Then I propose to dig 4 wells for IDPs, and 2 of them for local residents, there will be no conflict between them.
There are so many such sensitive issues. We raise these issues at international organizations. Every year I address the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. They come here and see beautiful towns built for IDPs and think that nothing is needed anymore. I always state that international organizations should stay in Azerbaijan. Some international organizations did not allocate funds, so we kept them in the country because we will need them after our occupied territories are released. The president also supports this issue.
Q: There are reports alleging that apartments given to IDPs are sold to other people in different ways. It is reported that there are also certain people who are active in this matter. Has the State Committee investigated these reports? Have such cases have been detected?
A: When I was working as the first secretary in Sumgayit and as the chairman of the city’s Executive Committee, both housing construction and housing distribution were under my authority, I have experience in this field. At that time I also encountered frauds and prevented them. There are also such cases in distribution of apartments among IDPs. For example, an IDP is registered in one place, bought a house in other place and kept some of his belongings there. When relocation begins, he/she returns back.
As for the sale of apartments, no one was able to prove this. However, such cases are recorded. How does this happen? IDPs do this secretly among themselves. For example, they build or buy a home for themselves somewhere, then find a customer and move their belongings at night. They take their money and leave. In the morning, representatives of the housing estate come and see that another person lives there. The law also does not allow for them to simply evict them, you need to sue. We sue them. Such things occur and the phrase "sale of apartments” derives from there.
There are cases of fraud. The State Committee deals with such cases itself. For example, an IDP woman from Aghdam collected 350,000 manat from 40 people with the promise to give them apartments. That woman was arrested on the basis of our appeal to our law enforcement agencies. In addition, a woman from Jabrayil, with her two assistants, took 150,000 manats from IDPs with the same promise. We ourselves exposed a network engaged in such affairs in Baku. We provided the necessary information about the network to law enforcement agencies.
Q: According to the new order, IDPs who are not entitled to a monthly allowance have been identified. How did the number of IDPs who receive or don’t receive monthly allowances change?
A: Some 403,000 IDPs receive a monthly allowance of 36 manats and 102,000 IDPs receive a monthly allowance of 20 manats. About 40,000 IDPs do not receive a monthly allowance.