Tehran, Sept 28, IRNA -- The head of the Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) in Tehran, Ahmad Hosseini, on Tuesday said that about 700,000 Afghan refugees residing in Iran are eligible to vote in their country's upcoming presidential elections.
Speaking to domestic and foreign reporters, he said that voting centers have been set up in Tehran, Qom, Isfahan, Fars, Sistan and Baluchestan, Khorassan Razavi and Kerman on October 10 for Afghan refugees to exercise their franchise.
He said a total of 93 polling stations and 1,130 precincts are to be set up for this purpose.
Quoting statistics taken in 2001, he said Afghan refugees residing in Iran numbered 2.35 million but that since the beginning of the voluntary repatriation program about 1.35 million have already returned to Afghanistan.
"About one million Afghans currently have the permit to reside in Iran and, in accordance with the voluntary repatriation program, some 300,000 are expected to return home before March 21, 2005."
He said "all Afghan refugees are required either to leave the country before the above deadline or obtain a permit in which the date of their departure is indicated."
According to Hosseini, 382,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their country since March 20.
He predicted the number of Afghan refugees in the country to have gone down to 700,000 in early spring and put the number of those currently residing here illegally at 250,000 to 300,000.
"The International Immigration Organization (IOM) has provided polling facilities for Afghan refugees in Iran with the cooperation of the Iranian government.
"The Iranian police will be responsible for safeguarding their ballots," he added.
Hosseini said that the empty ballots which have been brought in from Kabul will be distributed among the polling stations that will be open for voting.
"Meanwhile, Afghanistan's presidential contenders have been granted permission to campaign in Iran. Mobile ballot boxes will be available for refugees residing in provinces that have not been designated as polling centers. Moreover, they may travel to provinces with polling stations free of charge to cast their votes," he added.
The official said that 200,00 Afghan pupils are currently studying in Iranian schools paying tuitions much less than their Iranian counterparts.
In a related development, 104,000 Iraqi refugees have already returned to their country voluntarily, Hosseini further disclosed.
"According to statistics taken three years ago, Iraqi refugees residing in Iran numbered 202,000, around 102,000 of which are still living here," he added.
The BAFIA head said that no deadline has yet been set for Iraqi refugees to leave Iran on account of the situation in their country.
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