YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia will face “a new wave of emigration” unless its government does more to improve the socioeconomic situation and boost the rule of law in the country, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) warned on Tuesday.
In an annual report, the UNDP called for wide-ranging government measures, including democratic reform, that would “considerably reduce the motivation of Armenia’s population to leave the country.”
At least 700,000 Armenians, or about one-quarter of the country’s population, are believed to have emigrated to Russia and other countries since the break-up of the Soviet Union and the resulting turmoil in the region. The economically driven migration slowed significantly in the 1990s as the Armenian economy began recovering from its post-Soviet slump.
The problem is the main focus of the UNDP’s latest “human development report” on Armenia drawn up by local migration experts. They listed and analyzed its “significant negative effects on Armenia’s development processes.”
Those include decreased birth and marriage rates, a brain drain and other, “moral-psychological” consequences. People thinking about finding employment abroad are “less likely to struggle for the country’s development or against injustice and violations of law” and “more tolerant of negative phenomena, passive and too focused on just consumption,” says the 170-page report.
The report at the same time acknowledges economic benefits of the phenomenon, pointing to multimillion-dollar cash remittances sent home by hundreds of thousands of Armenian migrant workers mainly based in Russia, Europe and the United States. According to the Armenian Central Bank, their non-commercial cash transfers totaled $1.12 billion last year. The sum was equivalent to almost 13 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
The UNDP report confirms that the outflow of the population has eased significantly over the past decade parallel to Armenia’s robust economic growth. “The evidence is that permanent net emigration fell to an average of about 10,000 persons per annum, which is only about 0.4 percent of the country’s total population,” it says.
“However, despite the aforementioned process, the external migration situation in Armenia still remains alarming,” it adds. “Moreover, there are certain factors that give reason to assume that a new, rather massive wave of emigration may emerge.”
The UNDP-contracted experts argued in particular that tens of thousands of Armenian men working abroad might eventually reunite with their families and cause Armenia to “lose another 200,000-300,000 citizens.” Another factor mentioned by them in this regard is the ongoing concentration of agricultural land plots in the hands of wealthy individuals.
“Depending on how and at what pace [the land consolidation] happens, small land owners will be driven out of agricultural production, and some of them will most probably opt for labor emigration or permanent emigration due to the surplus of labor force in Armenia,” says the report.
“Migration remains a risk factor for Armenia’s national security,” said Vartan Gevorgian, a sociologist who led a team of Armenian experts working on the report. “I am talking about irregular migration.”
Accordingly, the report stresses the need for “active intervention” by the state aimed at “limiting the volume of permanent emigration.” It says that should be done through improving not only economic conditions but “governance practices” in the country. More specifically, that should mean “the adoption and restoration of democratic values in governance practice and the elimination of double standards,” according to the report.
“Most state officials are inclined to blame [the emigration] on socioeconomic causes such as unemployment,” Gevorgian told journalists. “But at the end of the day, people become poor not just because of a loss of income but also because of being unable to defend their rights … because of weak property guarantees.”
The UNDP report likewise says that Armenians have left the country not only because of poverty but also injustice, inequality before the law and a resulting atmosphere of popular cynicism.
Speaking during a public presentation of the report, Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian praised the UNDP office in Yerevan and the authors of the extensive analysis. He said its findings and proposals will be “useful” for government officials dealing with migration.
Gevorgian also said that the Armenian government is committed to finding “effective and radical solutions” to the problem and is currently working on a strategy of “state regulation of migration.” He did not elaborate.