UNHCR Chief: Iran Not to Expel Registered Afghan Refugees

A02556045.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- The United Nations refugee chief said on Saturday that Iran was committed not to expel more than one million registered Afghan refugees.

“Iran is committed not to expel registered Afghans,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters in Tehran.

Guterres said however that there is no international law concerning those who entered “illegally for economic” reasons.

“However we still want them to be screened to see whether they need protection,” he told a news conference.

Asked about reports of Afghan refugees being expelled by the Iranian authorities, Guterres said, “We have to distinguish between (registered) Afghan refugees and those who have recently came in for economic reasons.”

According to figures provided by the head of Iran’s bureau of alien and foreign immigrants affairs (BAFIA), there are 832,000 registered Afghans with around 200,000 of their offsprings who were born in the past six years.

Iran, Afghanistan and the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees six years ago.

According to Iranian figures only 88 Afghans returned home voluntarily since the beginning of the current year which started in March.

“The decrease in repatriation is mostly due to social and economical problems and not as much to security,” Guterres said.

“Not that security is not a problem in Afghanistan but social issues such as education are a bigger concern to refugees,” he added.

Iran estimates there are about 1.5 million Afghans living illegally within its borders. It began to force the illegals out around a year ago. But the pace has slowed down after Kabul said that it can not cope with this kind of influx.

Tehran has expressed frustration with illegal refugees, arguing that no European country had provided sanctuary to such a large number of refugees for so long.

“Confronting unregistered immigrants are based on internal laws of any nation and has nothing to do with international organizations or other nations,” said BAFIA chief Seyed Taghi Ghaemi.

“We do not have figures on how many unregistered Afghans enter Iran every year,” Ghaemi told the news conference, adding that the numbers change according to the season and depending on the availability of jobs.

Since 2002, the year after the fall of the Taliban government, the UNHCR has helped more than four million (registered) Afghan refugees return home but there are still about two million in Pakistan and one million in Iran.

Afghanistan is battling to defeat a growing Taliban-led insurgency that is hampering development. Its weak economy and unemployment rate of about 40 percent has led many men to cross into Iran illegally to work.

Guterres also described the refugee issue as a “political one and not humanitarian”, adding that the UNHCR cannot totally cure the problem.

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