Iran Halts Afghan Repatriation Program

A009017237.jpgTEHRAN (FNA) Iran said on Wednesday it had temporarily stopped the expulsion of illegal Afghans for “humanitarian reasons” after Kabul called for an immediate halt.

“Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to humanitarian reasons, issued an order to temporarily halt expulsion of illegal Afghans residents based on the Afghan government request,” IRNA quoted a statement by the Iranian embassy in Kabul as saying.

The Afghan foreign ministry on Wednesday summoned the acting Iranian ambassador, Seyed Mohiyoddin Najafi to complain about the expulsion of thousands of Afghans over the winter and call for an immediate halt.

Nearly 9,000 Afghans in Iran have been deported in the past two weeks, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The two countries signed an agreement that the return of registered Afghan refugees from Iran must be voluntary and conducted in a safe and dignified way. But the agreement does not cover unregistered Afghans.

Iran estimates there are about 1.5 million Afghans illegally living within its borders with another 900,000 there as registered refugees.

Most of the illegal Afghans are young men looking for work. Last year 365,000 were returned from Iran while around 7,000 registered refugees also came home voluntarily, the UNHCR said.

Iranian authorities this month warned Afghans without documents that they faced arrest and detention for up to five years if they did not leave.

Since 2002, around four million Afghans have returned to their country after fleeing during years of war and drought. It is one of the world’s biggest repatriation drives.

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