YEREVAN -- Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian says Russian authorities have been told to stop encouraging and helping families in Armenia to migrate to Russia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Sarkisian was referring on July 22 to the Russian government's Compatriots program, which offers employment, accommodation, and financial benefits to married residents of other former Soviet republics willing to settle in Russia. It is designed to address the country's serious demographic problems.
The Russian Federal Migration Service (FSM) began operating the program in Armenia in 2009 and has reportedly attracted hundreds of Armenian families since then.
Its activities are sparking a growing uproar from local opposition politicians, public figures, and media worried about the continuing outflow of people from Armenia. Some of them have demanded that the authorities in Yerevan ban the FSM scheme in Armenia.
Sarkisian said Armenian authorities shared those concerns. He said President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) instructed him to raise the matter at a recent meeting of a Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation that was held in the southern Russian city of Rostov-na-Donu.
"We brought our Russian partners' attention to the fact that that program must not be implemented in the Republic of Armenia with those standards," Tigran Sarkisian said. "This issue will be the subject of intergovernmental discussions."
"We have to solve this issue at the political level," he told a group of prominent Armenian writers, academics, and other intellectuals at a meeting held in Oshakan, a historic village in the central Aragatsotn province.
Some of those intellectuals signed an open letter to the government earlier this month urging it to do more to keep Armenians from leaving their country mainly for economic reasons. They echoed opposition claims that the scale of the emigration had increased of late.
President Sarkisian disputed those claims this week at a special meeting with top state officials -- including the prime minister -- that discussed the issue. He said most of the tens of thousands of people leaving the country each year, mainly for Russia, were seasonal workers who eventually return home.
Serzh Sarkisian admitted at the same that a lack of economic opportunities and the resulting emigration remained a serious problem in Armenia. He instructed government bodies to propose more measures to tackle it.
Armenia had about 4 million residents when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. At least one-quarter of its population has since emigrated in search of employment abroad.
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