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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Armenian PM: Syrian Refugees Plan to Stay

by Jeff Seldin December 25, 2012

It started as a trickle. Now it is a flow.

When the fighting began in Syria, some of the country's Syrian Armenians began to head to Armenia, but as the fighting has intensified so has the number of those looking to their ancestral homeland. Now, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan says there are about 7,000 Syrian Armenians in Armenia and that many are losing hope of ever going back.

​​'As the fighting continues, Syrians in Armenia begin making plans for the future,' Sargsyan said in an exclusive interview with VOA's Armenian service. 'Recently we met with Syrian Armenians at the Armenian president's office. Many Syrian Armenians are interested in moving their businesses to Armenia.'

​​Most the refugees are from Syria's commercial hub of Aleppo, home to an estimated 80,000 of the country's more than 100,000 mostly Christian Syrian Armenians. Many of them located to Syria in the early 1900s, fleeing the Ottoman Empire.

Some left in a hurry, grabbing only a handful of items. Others packed as much as they could carry, traveling in convoys for several days, through northern Syria and Turkey to get to the Armenian border.

Sargsyan says the longer they stay, the more they feel that staying in Armenia is their only choice.

'The challenges in front of us are helping them in transferring finances, moving equipment, getting bank credit and assistance in working in Armenia,' he said.

​​Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has promised the Syrian Armenians his government will do whatever it can to help them for as long as necessary.

Armenia has already eased visa requirements and has set up a school in Yerevan, free of charge, that teaches the Syrian curriculum so that students do not fall behind in their studies. It has also been helping to house refugees who do not have relatives in Armenia with whom they can stay.

Still, as the flow of refugees grows, so does the strain on Armenia's resources.

The International Monetary Fund's most recent outlook - October 2012 - put Armenia's unemployment rate at 19 percent, forecasting the jobless rate will remain above 17 percent at least through 2017. And even with the economy slowly gaining steam following a dramatic drop during the financial crisis, the World Bank says poverty remains a problem.

Armenia's government has been spending money on targeted social programs and on increased pensions, hoping a slowly improving economy will ease the burden. Still, the flow of refugees from Syria, especially those who owned their own businesses, may pose another obstacle.

According to the World Bank, more than 12 percent of Armenia's economy depends on remittances. Some of those payments came from the diaspora community in Syria.

For now, Armenia remains determined to do what it can for the refugees.

'We are trying to find solutions to all their social and economic needs,' the prime minister told VOA.

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