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700,000 Afghan refugees returned home from Iran: UNHCR

Tehran, May 5, IRNA -- More than 700,000 Afghan refugees have left Iran to return home since the UN Refugee Agency started its voluntary repatriation program to Afghanistan in April 2002.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) here, voluntary repatriation is the focus of UNHCR work in Iran this year. The process is governed by a tripartite agreement between the government of Iran, the Afghan authorities and UNHCR.

The three parties met in Kabul at the end of April to reaffirm their commitment to the voluntary repatriation program, which will last until March 2005.

Afghans going back with UNHCR support get free travel to Afghanistan, and also receive a travel grant upon their return, as well as funds to purchase foods and the other items on the local market. Returnees are also integrated into local assistance programs.

This summer is the last one before the agreement on voluntary repatriation ends, and it is important that Afghan refugees in Iran consider seriously UNHCR's offer to help them go home.

"The effort to rebuild Afghanistan is now fully underway," said UNHCR Representative in Iran Philippe Lavanchy.

"After March 2005, the agreement we have with Iran and Afghanistan will end, and UNHCR will do everything it can in the next few months to clear obstacles that prevent Afghans from repatriating if they want to."

For example, to help refugees who are held back in Iran due to outstanding legal disputes, UNHCR is opening seven Dispute Settlement Committees across Iran.

The committees will rely on mediation and arbitration to resolves such issues as non-payment of salary, or refusal to return rental caution.

UNHCR hopes this will help many Afghans who want to return immediately, but cannot go because of money still owed to them in Iran.

The Iranian government estimates that 1.4 million Afghan refugees live in the Islamic Republic.

Of those, 35.7 per cent are of Tajik origin, 30.5 per cent Hazara and 13.4 per cent Tajik. Almost 40 per cent of all returnees from Iran go back to Central Afghanistan and Kabul while just under 30 per cent return to northern parts of the country.

... Payvand News - 5/5/04 ... --

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