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Iran rejects charges of forced repatriation of Afghan refugees

Tehran, Jan 17, IRNA -- Iran brushed aside Monday the UN refugee agency head's allegation that it was forcing Afghan refugees to go home, saying the claim is based on 'improper information'.

Advisor to Interior Minister Ahmad Hosseini, stressed that Tehran was making a distinction between legal refugees and those who had crossed into the country illegally, reiterating the country's bid to confront the latter.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has no hesitation in confronting the illegal entry of Afghans and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has no right to interfere in Iran's internal affairs," he told reporters here.

The commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, had been quoted as alleging that the Iranian authorities have gone too far' in the repatriation process, threatening to suspend aid for Afghan refugees in Iran.

Hossein, who is the managing director of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) stated that 'repatriation has been suspended for three months because of the cold season and school time'.

"If the establishments of the UNHCR in Tehran and the provinces and 11 centers for voluntary repatriation of the Afghans are not able to compile a precise and real report on return of refugees for presentation to their head office in Geneva, it seems the Interior Ministry should review the operation of this organization in Iran," he added.

"It is interesting that while the UNHCR has cut all its funds for the Afghan refugees since last summer, it is now talking about their rights and other issues relating to them."

Last August, Iran said it had protested to UNHCR after the agency cut the assistance it provided to Iran for Afghan refugees. Hosseini then said that the assistance constituted only five percent of the expenses which Iran has been spending on the Afghan refugees.

Iran has been playing host to the Afghan refugees, fleeing years of war and drought, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution despite its own economic woes at home.

According to a World Food Program report, Iran has played host to about 2.65 million refugees since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, including 2.35 million Afghans, 203,000 Iraqis and 5,000 nationals of other countries.

Hosseini said 1.3 million of the Afghans have returned home under a voluntary repatriation which is carried out jointly by the Iranian government and the UNHCR under a deal signed in Geneva in April 2002.

Iran, however, has been complaining of new illegal entries, in which immigrants are trafficked into the country across its porous common borders with Afghanistan in the east and southeast.

Human traffickers mostly ship the illegal immigrants in rickety trucks on their long journeys deep into the heart of Iran, including its capital Tehran, with reports of death from asphyxiation not being rare.

Last November, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari said his ministry had submitted a bill to the parliament for tougher actions against human traffickers and illegal immigrants into Iran.

Hosseini said it is now three years that the 1951 refugee convention does not apply to the Afghans since they have now a government in their home country.

He reiterated the Iranian police's determination to arrest illegal immigrants, saying so far 140,000 of them have been detained.

"They have violated Iran's internal laws and perpetrated economic and security offenses through their illegal entry," Hossein said.

... Payvand News - 1/17/05 ... --

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