17 July 2022
Since there start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Armenia has experienced an increase in the numbers of people seeking asylum in the country, most of whom are from Ukraine.The country’s migration service reported that from January to March 2022, they had received applications for asylum from 13 countries, including Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Lebanon, and Syria. Over the past ten years, Armenia has granted refugee status to over 1,500 asylum seekers, with an average of 220 per year in the past five years. According to UNHCR 2021 mid-year data, there were 3,401 refugees, 127 asylum seekers, 42,023 people in refugee-like situations and 892 stateless people in the country. This data includes people displaced as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
According to the country’s 2006 Law on Foreigners, there are several grounds under which non-citizens may be detained. Article 37 provides that non-citizens may be detained when “it is impossible to return a foreigner to the State of origin or to the State where he or she came from, foreigners who have arrived at a crossing point of the state border of the Republic of Armenia without a passport, with an invalid passport, or who have been refused an entry visa at a crossing point of the state border of the Republic of Armenia, or who have not obtained an entry authorisation from the body carrying out border control, may be detained in a transit area or in another place - in a special facility provided for that purpose.” Non-citizens may be detained for up to 90 days; if the return of a non-citizen to their country of origin is not possible within 90 days, the relevant public administration can issue a temporary permit to the non-citizen for a term not exceeding one year. Detained non-citizens are supposed to be provided with important protections procedural safeguards, including: being provided the reasons for their arrest and detention in a language they understand or with the help of a translator; having the right to appeal against any court decision regarding their cases; receiving medical assistance; and having access to legal and consular assistance (Article 39).
Armenia has ratified several relevant human rights treaties including the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In its concluding observations published in 2017, the Committee Against Torture said that the State party should: “(a) Ensure that the exemption from criminal responsibility for irregular border crossing for refugees and asylum seekers is strictly enforced in practice and refrain from detaining refugees and asylum seekers on this ground; (b) Establish a legal basis for regularising the stay of individuals who are eligible to benefit from protection against refoulement under international human rights law but do not fall under the definition of refugee contained in the Law on Refugees and Asylum; (c) Develop and implement a comprehensive mechanism to ensure the rights of persons in penitentiary institutions who may be in need of international protection to access asylum procedures, and address, as a matter of priority, the substandard conditions of detention.”
While the processing of asylum applications of individuals in detention was suspended at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the processing of other cases continued. UNHCR praised the country’s migration service in adjusting asylum procedures and the creation of an online registration system.
The country began its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in April 2021 starting with people aged 65 and above. While the International Organisation for Migration has reported that “all foreign citizens including stateless persons, regardless of the period of stay in Armenia are eligible for vaccination against coronavirus”, it is unclear whether other groups such as undocumented migrants are included in the national vaccination plan.
- Panarmernian.net, “250 Foreigners Applied for Asylum in Armenia in 2022,” 23 June 2022, https://www.panarmenian.net/eng/news/301091/
- UNHCR, “Armenia Fact Sheet: February 2022,” March 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/623469b3f.pdf
- United Nations, “The Migration Service of Armenia Recognised for Good Practices in Adapting Asylum Procedures to the COVID-19 Situation,” 28 April 2021, https://armenia.un.org/en/125833-migration-service-armenia-recognized-good-practices-adapting-asylum-procedures-covid-19
- United States Department of State, “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Armenia,” 30 March 2021, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/armenia/
- H. Ohanyan, “WHO, Ministry of Health and Partners in Armenia Launch “Vaccination is Care - Reaching Out to People 65+” Campaign,” United Nations, 8 April 2022, https://armenia.un.org/en/177193-who-ministry-health-and-partners-armenia-launch-vaccination-care-reaching-out-people-65#:~:text=The%20campaign%20launched%20on%208,such%20as%20anemia%20and%20diabetes.
- IOM, “Provision of Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia,” March 2022, https://georgia.iom.int/sites/g/files/tmzbdl1311/files/documents/covid-19-sitrep-jan-march-2022.pdf
- Government of Armenia, “Law of the Republic of Armenia on Foreigners,” 25 December 2006, https://armenia.eregulations.org/media/Armenia_Law_on_Foreigners_2006_en.pdf
- Committee Against Torture, “Concluding Observations on the Fourth Periodic Report of Armenia,” CAT/C/ARM/CO/4, 26 January 2017, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT%2fC%2fARM%2fCO%2f4&Lang=en
- Migration Service Building in Armenia (Migration Service Armenia, "The Migration Service of Armenia recognized for good practices in adapting asylum procedures to the COVID-19 situation," United Nations, 28 April 2021, https://armenia.un.org/en/125833-migration-service-armenia-recognized-good-practices-adapting-asylum-procedures-covid-19)
15 July 2020
On 15 July, the GDP received a response to our Covid-19 survey concerning Armenia from a representative of an international organisation who wished to remain anonymous. The official reported that the Armenian government had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and was not considering one. The official indicated that Armenia does not operate an established immigration detention centre. The source explained that detainees in prisons are tested if it is suspected that they may have contracted Covid-19. Nonetheless, detainees are not routinely tested.
In a separate communication with the GDP, Mission Armenia, a local NGO, reported that people who enter the country in violation of border regulations “are transferred to common places of detention functioning within the country.” The country’s criminal code provides that individuals found crossing the state’s border without relevant documents or permits can be punished with imprisonment. However, this does not apply to people who enter the country seeking asylum. Asylum seekers are supposed to be accommodated in reception centres while they undergo refugee status determination procedures, where they receive food, hygiene items, and are not subjected to movement restrictions.
The anonymous source confirmed these details and added that many asylum seekers also apply for support with accommodation to the Migration Service or UNHCR partner NGO’s engaged in the provision of social assistance, or take care of accommodation by themselves. Mission Armenia nonetheless points out that as there sometimes are insufficient places available in reception centres, the NGO accommodates asylum seekers as well as non-nationals in deportation procedures.
The anonymous official said that currently, the Armenian government is developing a State Migration Management Strategy to regulate issues related to immigration detention, including building a dedicated immigration detention centre. The Armenian Ombudsman, however, has called on authorities to use “alternatives to detention,” echoing calls made by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 20 March.
As regards deportations, the source reported that they were not aware of any deportation cases among persons of concern since the declaration of the state of emergency by the Armenian government on 16 March 2020. On that date, the government declared a 30-day nationwide state of emergency. This was then prolonged four times and is now declared to be in place until 13 August. The state of emergency imposed movement restrictions, including travel to and from Armenia, particularly for non-citizens. At the same time, a non-citizen or stateless person can apply for asylum in Armenia during this period. However, upon entering the country s/he may undergo certain medical examinations and/or be placed in quarantine for 14 days. The Armenian Migration Service has created an online platform to submit asylum applications.
- Mission Armenia, Email exchange with the Global Detention Project, May 2020.
- Anonymous International Organisation official, Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, July 2020.
- Panorama, “Armenian Ombudsman: Authorities Should Resort More to Alternatives to Deprivation of Liberty,” 3 April 2020, https://www.panorama.am/en/news/2020/04/03/Armenian- ombudsman/2268074
- Police Officer Standing Next to a Health Worker Taking a Person's Temperature, (Bloomberg, "Armenian Government Stabilizes COVID-19 Cases, but Structural Risk Factors Remain," The JamesTown Foundation, 30 March 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/armenian-government-stabilizes-covid-19-cases-but-structural-risk-factors-remain/)