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Official: 1.9 million Afghan refugees in Iran now

Sanandaj, Kurdestan prov, Jan 15, IRNA -- There are still 1.9 million Afghan refugees in Iran which has repatriated 466,000 Afghans on top of the number since March 2002 under a tripartite program with the UN and the Kabul government, an Iranian deputy interior minister said in this western city Wednesday.

Of those repatriated, 386,000 returned home under an accord which the Islamic Republic, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Afghanistan signed in April last year for the repatriation of Afghan nationals, Ahmad Hosseini said, adding 80,000 others, who had illegally entered Iran, were deported in the period.

According to the deal, 600,000 Afghans will voluntarily return home in the Iranian year of 1382 which starts on March 21, 2003 and the remaining refugees will be repatriated by the end of 1383, Hosseini, who heads the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs, said.

"Planning has been made in such a way that the file of Afghan refugees in Iran is closed by the end of 1383," he added.

The official outlined the phased program for the repatriation, saying those Afghans who were married to Iranians would be allowed to return home last.

The Iranian government will provide special privileges to those Afghan men who are legally married to Iranians in order to encourage them not to quit their families, Hosseini said.

"Iranian women who are married into Afghan nationals will hold their passports, but their children will make use of special blue cards, issued for Afghan refugees," the official added.

Since August 28 last year, Iranian police have been dealing with those Afghans who lack proper papers for residence.

Hosseini, meanwhile, said that Iran is currently hosting 202,000 Iraqis who will be required to present new cards for their residence from the start of the new year on March 21, 2003 when the current green cards will no longer be considered valid any more.

... Payvand News - 1/15/03 ... --

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