20 July 2004 - Afghans still living in Iran and Pakistan will be able to vote in Afghanistan's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the United Nations Assistance Mission to the country (UNAMA) announced today.
UNAMA and Afghanistan signed memorandums this month with the governments of the country's two neighbours that pave the way for the estimated hundreds of thousands of Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran to take part in the polling.
In a statement issued today, UNAMA said Afghanistan reached a deal on voting and voter registration with Pakistan today, eight days after striking an agreement with Iran. The Iran deal only covers voting because out-of-country voter registration was already approved last year.
The Secretary-General's Deputy Representative for Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, said today's deal completed the out-of-country voter registration processes.
"The process itself will be a challenge, particularly from the organizational side, but the UN will do its utmost to help guarantee its integrity," he said.
Afghanistan's presidential election is due to be held on 9 October, while the national and local parliamentary elections have been postponed to next April.
Meanwhile, more than two years after Afghans began returning home on a large scale following decades of war and harsh rule, the pace of voluntary repatriation remains strong, the UN Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
For the first time, more refugees are returning from Iran than from Pakistan, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters today in Geneva.
So far this year at least 450,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan - taking the total returns since early 2002 to almost 3 million. The months between May and August are generally the busiest for returns because schools are closed and the growing season is about to start.
Ms. Pagonis said more than 242,000 people have returned from Iran this year, compared to 210,000 from Pakistan. About 900,000 people have now returned from Iran, while at least 2 million have gone back from Pakistan.
All returning refugees are entitled to receive a cash grant when they arrive in Afghanistan to help them settle. To prevent "double-dipping," the UNHCR is using computerized iris-recognition technology in refugee camps in Pakistan's west to identify and register returnees. Today it dispatched the first mobile teams with the technology to encourage more returns.
On 1 September, the agency plans to stop all assistance to the camps in Pakistan's west that have only emerged in the past two years and has offered extra incentives to encourage the estimated 190,000 residents to return home in advance.
Ms. Pagonis said UNHCR staff will hold talks tomorrow in Kabul with Afghan and Pakistani government officials to discuss repatriation issues. The agency and Islamabad are also discussing possible new sites for Afghan refugees who do not return by September.
... Payvand News - 7/21/04 ... --