Refugee care system in Armenia and how to improve it

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My favourite kids in their temporary house in the outskirts of Yerevan on arrival from Suruc camp in Turkey where they stayed over a year (without a possibility to attend school) after fleeing their home in Kobane, Syria. Photo credit James Aram Elliott on assignment to the Armenian Redwood Project

 

Armenia is the third European country with the biggest number of displaced people from Syria. Read more

There are many organisations claiming they help the refugees in Armenia but the impact is very little so most of the times the newly arrived refugees are not aware about available services and assistance which results in the majority of them leaving the country in disappointment and failure to find a job/accommodation (the ones that manage to get a visa go to Europe/Canada and the ones who don't have money go back to Syria).

I've helped several newly arrived vulnerable families to integrate, acting like a social worker, finding them accommodation, placing the kids at schools and orientation/training for the adults to find jobs to become sustainable in the long run. In my work I often come across the fact that refugees become overly dependent on our aid when we get too involved. It is very hard to find a balance when we want them to become self-sustainable in the long run. How long shall we provide the housing subsidies? How to help the refugees to become self-sustainable in the long run? What criteria should be used to qualify the family? How can social workers stay objective in evaluating each case? What if after 3-6 months of support none of the family members are able to find a job? What if the available jobs are hardly enough to pay the rent?

E.g. A single father with 4 kids(one of them is mentally disabled) and he just has no way to work even though his disabled son started attending an art therapy workshop(from 10AM to 2PM) he still needs to cook, clean and do house chores during that time. There is no part time job available for him and he is not motivated to look for one neither; he needs psychological help but he refuses it. The government can not offer him a stipend(40 Euros per child/month) since he is not yet a citizen of Armenia and even if he receives the stipend it will not be enough to sustain his family.

Another problem we are facing in Armenia is the facilitation of information communication for the refugees: we got many organisations that offer different kind of assistance but it seems like refugees do not have access to the information and feel lost when they need help(healthcare, housing, employment, food/clothing, etc). 

I am currently doing a desk research about how to improve the social services for the refugees here in Armenia. The aim is to mobilize all the organisations working with refugees to create an independent unit of trained social workers(including many Syrian-Armenians as it would provide them with a job and they are naturally motivated to help other refugees) and create an effective system to deal with the issues of Syrian refugees in Armenia.

Here's a recent article about the hardships many refugees face in Armenia and another one about why Armenian organisations should work together to ensure resiliency in the face of the Syrian migrant crisis.

 

Tentative agenda

Coming soon. 

Before the workshop

Coming soon.

Possible references:

Reading the references is not obligatory at all! But it may help participants to get into the flow and enjoy it more.

Feel free to suggest more! 

Team

  • Anna Kamay: " It's been a few months that I decided to settle back in my hometown Yerevan (my decision was inter alia affected by all the inspiring people/grassroot initiatives I (re)discovered this summer working for Edgeryders/FutureMakers project) ". Read more.
  • If you want to join the team sign up/sign in to edgeryders.eu and contact Anna directly or leave a comment below!

How to get a ticket!

Tickets for this event do not cost money, but you need to complete some small tasks. It's easy! 

1. If you don't already have one, sign up for an edgeryders account here: http://bit.ly/1SKCYtZ
2. Leave a comment below to introduce yourself and let us know you want to come!
4. Someone will say hello and suggest some small tasks you should complete for a ticket!
5. When you finish the tasks, we will send you the ticket
6. See you at the workshop :)

Sat, 2016-02-27 15:30
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Comments

Got a set of questions you want to focus on?

Nadia's picture

Wow. I had no idea about the numbers, it's mind boggling. Why Armenia- Could you maybe describe a bit the historical/geopolitical context?

I know  that there is a big Yezidi community in the country and my favourite composer is Armenian (guess which one :)) But not so much more. My guess is the same will be true for many people in the community and beyond.

Also, do you have some photos from Armenia, the spaces where you are working? Clearly nothing that compromises privacy of the people with, but that gives an idea of the context/ environment within which you are looking for solutions...

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Your favorite composer has to

Iriedawta's picture

Your favorite composer has to be Aram Khachaturian :-)

This is just a draft for me to work on in the coming weeks, I created the event as a reminder to myself mostly.

There used to be and still is a large Armenian community in Syria (roughly 100,000, with more than 60,000 of them centralized in Aleppo), due to the displaced people who found refuge in Syria after the Armenian genocide of 1915-1924. Basically Syria was/still is considered the stronghold of Christianity in the region due to the Armenian population living there. Because of The Syrian Civil War, most of the Armenians would leave Syria and move to either Europe/North America or UAE(if they had relatives there and could afford the trip), otherwise they would come to Armenia as their homeland. The ones who still stay in Syria are either so poor they can not afford to move or they have properties that they can not sell and are afraid to leave risk having them robbed and vandalized, so currently the estimate of the remaining population of the Armenian community in Aleppo is approx. 5000 people.

The sad reality is that the ones that do come to Armenia eventually (intend to) leave the country as they fail to integrate, find jobs and affordable housing though in the last 5 years you can feel their presence in Yerevan a lot: food joints serving delicious stuff that was once considered exotic and rare, good customer service(as in all post-sovietic countries it was non-existent in Armenia), new available services, diversity in many fields, etc

This is a once in a lifetime chance for Armenia to improve and progress...we will never again have a chance to receive such human capital (over 17 000 people with different skills and professions, most of whom speak Armenian) coming to Armenia voluntarily, that is able to boost the local economy, bring diversity and change that is so needed here. However we are failing at providing the essential care needed for these people to resettle and start a new life here, so sadly, if we do not act, we are going to lose almost all of them. 

Officials are proudly reporting that we do not have tented camps like elsewhere and that the Syrian refugees in Armenia are taken care of and have lots of advantages but it is not enough. Even if they manage to find accommodation and a job, the salary is not enough for them to pay the rent and live a decent life (this is a problem for the locals as well, that is why every second person has a relative sending them money from abroad), the process of integration of students at school is non-existent(the Syrian-Armenians speak a different dialect and some do not know how to read or write in Armenian), the medical care system also has lots of issues...overall there is no platform to coordinate the care services available for the refugees resulting in people being lost and nowhere to turn to for assistance.

Here are some photos.

P.S. And we still got the issue of the Azerbaijan refugees who fled to Armenia after Sumgait massacres of 1988 who live in overcrowded dorms without any care..

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Useful context

Noemi's picture

Thank you, this is great insight and gets us reading about the Armenian situation ahead of the event. Take your time to structure it, and like Nadia I think it will be super if the description will mention what it is you will want to achieve with the session, what questions will be answered so that people know what angle to expect (one or more of the system fails to integration and how the RedWoodProject takes on duties normally pertaining to placement centers? or?). Also makes it easier for anyone to decide whether this is a session useful to them.  We'll be on the lookout for this!

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Thanks dear,

Iriedawta's picture

Thanks dear,

Will be working on the core subjects of the session and will update the event soon.

Still need to discuss this with ARP and see if they want me to represent them at the event. 

Will keep you posted!

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Outlines of core subjects

Iriedawta's picture

So I've discussed with ARP and got several ideas I'm going to dive into during the session: for instance, I often come across the fact that refugees become overly dependent on our aid when we get too involved. It is very hard to find a balance when we want them to become self-sustainable in the long run.

Another subject I'd like to touch is the facilitation of information communication for the refugees in Armenia, we got many organisations that offer different kinds of help but it seems like refugees do not have access to the information and feel lost when they need help(healthcare, housing, employment, food/clothing, etc).

I am currently doing a desk research about how to improve the social services for the refugees here in Armenia and what I've learnt so far is that we definitely need an independent unit with social workers with a call center, lawyer, social broker/real estate agent and employment agent.

Here's our latest blog entry about why Armenian organisations should cooperate to ensure resiliency in the face of the Syrian crisis. I've also done several case studies of Syrian-Armenian refugees in Armenia: here are the stories of Ilona and Ashkhen.

 

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Just pinging

KiraVde's picture

@Anton Sabbe, because I think this will be interesting for you. :)

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Good idea

Anton Sabbe's picture

@KiraVde @Iriedawta Thanks for the smart idea and the suggestion! The creation of an independent unit with social workers and experts seems to me very interesting.  Can be a type of call center, with a frontline helpdesk, and a second line support.

 
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Just adding a cool project to

Iriedawta's picture

Just adding a cool project to check out. The Refugee Project is a narrative, temporal map of refugee migrations since 1975. 

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How about public perception?

Teo's picture

Great session, @Iriedawta!

I was wondering what is the public perception towards refugees in Armenia?

I was recently part of a small communication project, implemented by a local NGO, about the situation of refugees in general and in Romania. One of the activities was to go to universities and talk to students about the challenges that migrants and refugees face. I intuitively knew it, but I was still taken by surprise by the negative attitude towards refugees that some of the students we interacted with had. Maybe it was just ignorance and lack of information, but I founded it concerning since it's not rarely that refugees have to rely on others' support and open-mindedness .

 

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Great question, @Teo. Indeed

Iriedawta's picture

Good question, @Teo. Indeed this is another obstacle to the integration of the refugees in Armenia as the locals' attitude towards them is if not hostile then at least indifferent. It is sometimes hard for the newcomers to rent an apartment as the landlords do not trust them and prefer to rent to locals or Europeans/Americans instead. Syrian shopkeepers and restaurant owners mention some local people do not prefer to buy from them. 

As Armenia has lots of unsolved social issues(e.g. in Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia lots of people still live in temporary houses provided by humanitarian aid back in 1988 due to the earthquake), some locals feel those issues should be addressed first before addressing the refugees' issues. 

This is sad, as most of the Syrian refugees in Armenia have Armenian origin and their ancestors fled the Turkish massacres of 1915-1924 to find shelter in Syria, and Armenians talk a lot about recognition of the Armenian Genocide  forgetting that the grandchildren of the victims are now back in their homeland and they need urgent help. 

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Here is a great initiative by

Iriedawta's picture

Here is a great initiative by Natakallam (one of the founders is Armenian) aiming to alleviate the struggle of jobless Syrians in Lebanon by pairing them with students learning Arabic for conversation-focused classes over the internet. 

In providing Syrians with work opportunities, the platform also caters to a specific need within the Arabic learning community interested in the spoken Levantine (especially Syrian) dialect. 

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As I didn't have my session

Iriedawta's picture

As I didn't have my session during LOTE5, here's the documentation I'd like to share here. Your feedback would be much appreciated!

My presentation , an article about the current situation and a success story.

Was great to be part of LOTE5 <3

 

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Updates? Also, food brings people together.

Noemi's picture

Hi @Iriedawta, I hope all is good with you and your little one! 

I'm curious if 10 months after we had this conversation the situation of Syrians ethnic Armenians has improved in your country? Some days ago in response to my post about the community dinner we organised in Cluj you mentioned you would like to do something similar in Yerevan? I was wondering how these food businesses set up by refugees (which you linked to) are progressing and if there is a chance of showing value for the community by involving them in such a simple, yet fun event? I look forward to returning, and 2017 is the year!! Let's have a skype sometime to let you know about updates. 

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Thanks for checking in!

Iriedawta's picture

Hi @Noemi dear, thanks for checking in! Actually there is some improvement, concerning the awareness about the situation in the government and policy makers' circle. I am happy to notice that now more and more agencies talk about the issue of Syrian refugees and the need to accommodate them and help them integate in Armenia. As for me, I gradually disengaged from the formal activities of Armenian Redwood Project (ARP) since it moved to a more bureaucratic and administrative sphere that I was not very comfortable dealing with, compared to the field work I have been doing for over a year, and currently I am only writing content and helping with field work. ARP has now teamed up with other agencies to work on a project of offering housing to the refugees with a lease, so that instead of paying rent they can pay for it monthly and own the apartment after a few years. As you know ARP has been subsidizing the rent of the refugees for the past couple of years. 

Nowadays I'm juggling a few projects, all of them are important causes I care for and I wrote case studies about during the Futuremakers project - I'm managing a social enterprize Sunchild Eco Tours  and the Eco Lodge in the only privately owned nature reserve in the Caucasus - the CWR, organizing events and the AiR program in the Institute for Contemporary Arts in Yerevan AND working on my own art project The Return: Environmental Portraits of the Syrian Refugees in Armenia together with my friend and a talanted photographer Anush Babajanyan of 4Plus Photography. The final product will be a photo exhibition and storytelling event that aimes to bring awareness to the issues of Syrian refugees in Armenia.  And we will definitely involve the Syrian restaurants to provide food for our opening ceremony(maybe some collective cooking eventually). People in Armenia got to like and appreciate the taste of Levantene cuisine and Syrian food is popular more than ever in Yerevan!

So yeah, I'm uberstretched and have almost no me-time considering I'm single-parenting since I moved to Armenia in summer 2015.  Luckily I have had the chance to be one of the beneficiaries of Stega 's 6 week yoga course for the changemakers of Armenia (just had my last class on Wednesday) and we hope to fundraise to offer yoga and meditative therapy classes for the refugees in the nearest future. 

I'm also preparing another art project which is called "Juggling Dinosaurs" that is going to tackle the notion of single parenting in Armenia for females, who receive no support whatsoever...a woman, a mother, an activist and a professional trying to juggle it all....

So there you are, now you know why I was absent from the platform for such a long time...hope to meet you all for LOTE6(is it happening?) next year! Edgeryders(you, @Nadia, @Alberto, @Patrick Andrews and Co) is always on my mind and I'm trying to follow all the developments on the platform. I will definitely come back!

Much love

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When is your exhibition?

Noemi's picture

Very happy you are keeping yourself busy with great endeavors! Alex is organising an event to increase learning across refugee workers and wider public within an arts fest in the end of February in London - we're just now discussing potential formats.. if we know your timeline who knows, maybe we come up with some idea :P

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Cool!

Iriedawta's picture

Thanks @Noemi, @Alex Levene 's event seems exactly the kind of project I'd love to collaborate with! Concerning our timeframes, right now we are in full production phase and we will finish collecting stories and photos of the refugees(around 30-50 families) by January 2017. The final result of the first phase is going to be a presentation of our work and screening of the photos + storytelling. After this I will be curating an exhibition of the photography with captions and this will be a large scale event in Yerevan(probably April - May). We already got sponsored the first phase and more donors are interested to fund the second phase(Armenian Redwood Project, etc). To cut this short, I'd be more than happy to present the outcomes of the first phase during Alex's event and possibly talk about the refugee situation in Armenia in general. 

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@Iriedawta. I think that

Alex Levene's picture

@Iriedawta. I think that would be really interesting. I could even talk to the organisers of the festival and see if they have space to exhibit some of the photographs at the festival.

I think the other benefit could be to line up the work you are doing in Armenia with some UK citizen-led charities who may be able to offer support and volunteers to help out in Armenia.

We really want the event to about positive steps forward, and were keen to share stories where people have made a real improvement, or created a new service themselves. If there are still issues and negative conditions within the refugee provision then it may be most useful to prepare a document that outlines these, with some suggestions as to how people could help from home. We could then circulate this at the event and make it available online through social media and the ER platform. Just an initial idea.

Please feel free to add to the page where we are collecting thoughts: https://edgeryders.eu/en/the-culture-squad/ideas-for-building-an-event-at-the-intersection-of

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@Alex Levene that's great. Do

Iriedawta's picture

@Alex Levene that's great. Do find out if there is the possibility to exhibit our project/ host a presentation followed by a discussion during the event. 

Other then that Syrian refugees in Armenia need psychological support(therapy, meditative yoga, etc) and there is no capacity in the country. So this is one kind of help we might need from your mentioned UK charities(language barrier might be an issue).

I did conducted a research in 2015 and I can share it if you are interested. 

I will post my thoughts in the ideas page.

 

Cheers,

 

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Yes, do share the research

Noemi's picture

.. I would be super interested, thanks!

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@Noemi @Alex_Levene Here is

Iriedawta's picture

@Noemi @Alex_Levene Here is the link to my research paper from 2015. Hope it's useful. Let me know if you need further info.

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Also, here's a recent article

Iriedawta's picture

Also, here's a recent article depicting the current situation with the refugees in Armenia.

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