Australian Lawmakers Urge Outside Help for Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Refugees

Seven Australian lawmakers have toured a refugee camp in Armenia, as thousands of ethnic Armenians flee their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Forces from Azerbaijan took control of the contested region last week.

A delegation of seven Australian lawmakers is visiting Armenia this week and toured a camp for those fleeing the unrest.

The lawmakers have described a shortage of humanitarian relief and a sense of fear among those who have been displaced.

They are urging Australia and other countries to send more aid and medical supplies and have called on the United Nations to send observers to monitor the situation.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but the mountainous enclave in the South Caucasus has been under the control of ethnic Armenians for three decades with support from Armenia and its ally, Russia, which has had a peacekeeping mission there for three years.

Last week, Azerbaijani forces seized control, prompting thousands of ethnic Armenians to flee to Armenia.  Ethnic Armenian fighters in the region were forced to disarm.

Mark Coure is the New South Wales state shadow minister for multiculturalism and is part of the delegation.  He spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from the town of Goris in Armenia about the flood of refugees.

“We are seeing firsthand, I think, an international crisis unfold.  We are seeing hundreds of cars and buses and open-top trucks snaking their way through Armenia.  What we are seeing here is just truly an extraordinary event unfold.  The main square in Goris is crowded, which is where I am standing at the moment.”

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said Australia encouraged “dialogue and a commitment by all sides to talks that deliver a just and lasting peace” in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Authorities have said more than 28,000 refugees had crossed into Armenia.  The country’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, told local media that ethnic cleansing was underway in the region.  Azerbaijan has insisted that it wants to reintegrate the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh as “equal citizens.”

Representatives from Azerbaijan and Armenia have met in Brussels for talks brokered by the European Union.  Azerbaijan mounted an effective blockade of a vital route into the enclave in December. 

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