UNHCR inaugurates residential block for Iraqi refugees in Armenia

News Stories, 3 July 2009

© UNHCR/A.Hayrapetyan
Young refugees from Iraq play outside the new residential block in Darbnik, southern Armenia.

DARBNIK, Armenia, July 3 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday inaugurated a special residential centre for Iraqi refugees in the southern Armenian village of Darbnik. The building, a former agricultural college provided to UNHCR by the government last year, features 46 apartments and a social and recreation room. It was rehabilitated by UNHCR implementing partner, YMCA/Shelter.

At an opening ceremony attended by government officials, diplomats, local businesses, UN organizations, humanitarian aid workers and refugees from Iraq, UNHCR Representative to Armenia Bushra Halepota thanked all those who had helped in the project and wished the new residents a dignified and happy life in Darbnik, which is located in Ararat Marz province.

"A house is built by bricks, but a home and community are built by hearts and it is the close link with the community that will make this beautiful building into a happy abode for Iraqi families," she said.

Many UNHCR partners were involved in the project: the Armenian government ensured that the building was linked to gas and electricity networks; telecoms company VivaCell-MTS provided some vital funding; and the United States Embassy will supply furniture for the apartments.

Hundreds of members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, have fled Iraq to escape sectarian violence in recent years. The majority were born in the Middle East nation.

About 1,000 Iraqi Armenians have been granted refugee or temporary asylum status in Armenia the past five years. They live in rented houses in the capital, Yerevan, or in Ararat Marz and Kotayk provinces.

Most possess limited financial resources and are in urgent need of material assistance. They also find it hard to communicate in an unfamiliar language and a major struggle to make ends meet in an alien land.

The UN refugee agency, working through its local implementing partners, has been helping the most vulnerable families and promoting local integration of the refugees. The "Social House" in Darbnik is part of this programme and addresses the most crucial need of the refugees shelter.

"VivaCell-MTS, as a corporate citizen, wants to contribute to this great programme of housing, initiated by UNHCR," said VivaCell-MTS General Manager Ralph Yirikian, who took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan and others. "We, the Armenians of Armenia, have to do our best to create the conditions for these people [Iraqi refugees] to stay and see their children's future here."

By Anahit Hayrapetyan in Darbnik, Armenia

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