The South Caucasus region is a very important region for migration capacity building due to significant migration flows to and through all three countries. The South Caucasus countries suffer from high unemployment rates in rural regions and former industrial towns which has led to high outgoing migration abroad. Last but not least, there are significant numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Caucasus who are in great need of reintegration in the labor market.
According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2007/2008, the poverty level was approximately similar in all three South Caucasus countries. While in Georgia the percentage of population living below 2 USD a day was 25,3%, in Armenia it was 31,1% and in Azerbaijan 33,4%.
In 1994, Armenia stopped the post-Soviet economic decline and saw gradual GDP growth each following year. The economic growth of the last few years, however, did not automatically yield a higher standard of living. Starting from 2000, with the elaboration of the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the subscription of Armenia's authorities to the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, aiming at the reduction of extreme poverty by half by 2015, a qualitative shift was made in public policies towards pro-poor targeted strategies.
Armenia remains on target to achieve most, if not all, of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. In 2005, Armenian Government published a first progress report on meeting the MDGs (below). The progress report was notably optimistic, setting more goals than the global targets. Nevertheless, achievement of all of these goals is assessed as only 'possible' or 'likely'. Rates of poverty, infant mortality and maternal mortality have fallen rapidly over the past few years. There is virtually full enrollment in schools, and the country is in the midst of education reforms that will further strengthen teachers’ salaries, training and curricula. However, challenges continue to exist in promoting gender equality, combating communicable diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and implementing the government’s anti-corruption agenda necessary to utilize aid well. Another comprehensive analysis of the progress in achieving MDGs shall be held in 2008 and disaggregated regional MDGs targets will be elaborated.
Since re-gaining its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has faced the majority of the complex manifestations of contemporary migration. During the early years post-independence, a significant number of Azerbaijanis have emigrated to other countries mainly because of the post-Soviet economic decline. This decline continued until 1996 and, along with it, various other socio-economic difficulties inherent in a transition period have acted as emigration push factors. In particular, the conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan led to emergence of approximately one million refugees and IDPs.
At the same time, however, Azerbaijan has also become hosting country to an increasing number of foreign citizens and stateless persons. Conflicts and instability in the neighbouring regions have also increased transit through Azerbaijan as forced migrants left their homes in search of security and better livelihoods. Nowadays, the economic revival of the country has created favourable conditions for the reverse of migration flows. In the recent years, Azerbaijan experienced high annual GDP growth, driven by a vibrant oil and gas sector. This has already affected the migration cycle as, according to official data, net migration was approximately 1,000 persons positive in 2007.
At present, as a result of the rapid socio-economic progress and the realization of important projects in the fields of energy, transport and in other sectors, Azerbaijan is being transformed to an increasingly attractive destination country for labour migrants.
Since 1996 and the establishment of an IOM mission in Azerbaijan, the IOM has been requested by the Government of Azerbaijan to assist with migration management issues through the Programme on Capacity Building in Migration Management. The programme included technical assistance in policy development, structural reform, legislation and operational performance on migration management.
Georgia Human Development Report from 2008 states that average incomes in Georgia continue to be lower than they were in 1991. When the government came to power in 2004, poverty was acknowledged to be a major problem and, along with unemployment, was one of the most pressing issues that faced the government and the people. The level of poverty differs according to the methodology used. According to the UNDP’s two dollars a day estimate, 25 percent of the population lives in poverty. This crude figure allows comparison with other countries in the region. While there is no consensus about the absolute level of poverty in Georgia, there seems to be a general agreement that there has been little change in either poverty or extreme poverty over the last four years. (Georgia Human Development Report, 2008. The Reforms and Beyond. UNDP Georgia.)
The review of migration management in Georgia done by IOM Tbilisi in January 2008 describes that Georgia lies at the border between Europe and Asia and is a transit route of trans-Eurasian and intercontinental traffic making it at the same time a country of origin, transit and destination.
Russia and Georgia have agreed on delimiting 80 percent of their common border, leaving certain small, strategic segments and the maritime boundary not yet demarcated. The border with Armenia remains not demarcated and there are discussions with Azerbaijan in regard to the alignment of the common border at certain crossing areas.
Since mid-2006, all land and sea borders between Georgiaand Russia have been closed following a unilateral decision from Russia as a result of strained diplomatic relations between the two countries. Because of this situation there are currently no direct transport links operated between Georgia and Russia.
In the early 1990’s two conflicts broke out between the central Georgian government hand and the autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As a result of these conflicts the Georgian government does not currently exert control over these two conflict areas, including control over movements in those regions, especially regarding border crossings to and from Russia. The “border” between Abkhazia and Georgia proper at the Inguri Bridge is controlled by CIS peacekeeping forces. Citizens of Georgiacan currently not enter Abkhazia, except for the region of Gali. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) move in considerable numbers to their homes in the Gali district, where a number of them settle seasonally or even permanently. The “border” with South Ossetia is controlled by the de-facto authorities of South Ossetia and citizens of Georgia can enter only when they have been cleared by these authorities.
The government faces several issues which hold implications for the management of migration flows across Georgia’s international borders and the stay of foreigners in the country.
The geographic position of Georgia in a region which faces possible instability has created an imminent threat of flows of refugees and displaced persons across its borders.
About a quarter of a million IDPs from Georgia’s secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been waiting for a solution since their displacement in the early 1990s. The majority of the 220,000 to 250,000 IDPs have found refuge in the region bordering Abkhazia and in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. In order to improve their situation, the Georgian government adopted in early 2007 a national strategy on IDPs, drawn up with the support of the international community and civil society organizations.
Internal labour migration is significant, though largely unmonitored. Labour out-migration continues and there is a substantial diaspora of Georgians in many countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union, notably Russia. Many households in Georgia are heavily dependent on remittance flows. Despite an abundance of anecdotal information, the understanding of the administration of economic aspects of labour migration and the issues of remittances and migration and development are low.
Transit migration through Georgia raises several associated border control issues. Major structural problems in the areas of migration and border management as a whole negatively affect the country’s ability to control the flow of people across its own borders. In particular, those problems include the lack of a central government agency in charge of coordinating migration management, no system to keep track of visitors who overstay, coupled with a very liberal visa system. (Review of migration management in Georgia. Assessment report. IOM, January 2008.)