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Lubbers: 500,000 Afghans to be repatriated by next April

Tehran, April 14, IRNA -- Some 500,000 Afghans will voluntarily repatriate through UN assistance by April 1, 2005 under a tripartite agreement.

Announcing this, the Head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers said at a press conference here on Wednesday that the program would basically involve informing people of security conditions in their homeland.

Lubbers said the Afghans would be provided with transportation facilities for repatriation.

Lubbers arrived in Iran on the first leg of a nine-day mission to examine one of the world's biggest refugee problems.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers will on the second and last legs of his visit go on to Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss the repatriation of Afghan refugees with authorities in those countries.

Iran and Pakistan had taken on the largest single refugee burden in the world during the 1990s.

Number of the refugees reached about 1.4 million at the end of 2003.

The 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran have also been leaving the country in large numbers since the downfall of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad last year.

About half of them may have headed back home on their own since April 2003.

Because of the latest violence in Iraq, UNHCR last week suspended weekly convoys from Iran to southern Iraq which have transported about 5,000 refugees on organized returns over the past six months.

Asked by IRNA whether there was any link between recent Iraq developments and the official refugee repatriation program under UN auspices and whether the repatriation had been due to likely terrorist infiltrations, Lubbers ruled out any such link.

He said that security has the first say in the process. Lubbers said that if there is indication the people are linked to al-Qaeda, the UN would not grant them refugee status.

He said that first of all, the refugees in masses are considered as refugees but if there is indication some of them belong to armed groups and terrorist groups, the UN would talk to them specifically and then authorities would be informed of and the group of people would be sorted out of the refugee camps.

Asked whether there would be any guarantee the refugees would not come back to Iran after repatriation, Lubbers told IRNA that the guarantee would be difficult.

He said it would be to the interest of both Iran and Afghanistan to have productive Afghans get engaged in either country. He added that employment of the Afghans would help promote economic and social relations between Tehran and Kabul.

Lubbers said the UN had adopted certain supportive facilities to encourage Afghans repatriate.

He added that education facilities are to be provided in Afghanistan to help Afghans continue their education there.

The UN official said the government of Hamed Karzai attaches great significance to the return of Afghans to get engaged in Afghanistan.

During his stay in Iran, Lubbers held talks with a number of Iranian officials including Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, Director General of the Interior Ministry's Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) Ahmad Hosseini, and Minister of Labor Safdar Hosseini.

... Payvand News - 4/15/04 ... --

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