TEHRAN, 23 May (IRIN) - The Director General of the Iranian interior ministry's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) has announced stricter limitations on Afghans living in Iran, the reformist daily newspaper Sharq reported on Sunday.
Ahmad Hosseini said Afghans will not be allowed to settle in parts of Sistan Baluchestan, a south-eastern province that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, southern Khorasan, an eastern province that borders Afghanistan or Turkmenistan. This is in addition to current restrictions that forbid Afghans settling in the five eastern provinces of Azerbaijan, Kordestan, Kermanshah, Ilam and Khuzestan.
Hosseini said that police will also be permitted to arrest and hold any Afghan attempting to settle in these provinces. He stated that the reason for the latest crackdown on Afghans was regional security.
More than a million Afghans refugees have returned home officially from Iran since the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) started its voluntary repatriation programme in April 2002. The repatriation process in Iran takes place within the framework of a tripartite agreement, known as the Joint Programme between the Iranian government, the Afghan authorities and the UN refugee agency. The main aims of the Joint Programme are to ensure that repatriation is voluntary, takes place with dignity and is bolstered by assistance towards reintegration once in Afghanistan.
"The government has agreed with UNHCR for voluntary repatriation for the full Iranian year, until March 2006," Henrik Nordentoft, UNHCR deputy resident representative told IRIN.
However, Hosseini said that Afghans who stay in Iran after 6 July will be subject to local taxation.
"From 6 July, all foreign immigrants in Iran will have to pay municipal taxes. The amount for each person will be between 100,000 to 150,000 Tomans [US $110 - $165] per year," according to the Sharq report. He added that the Iranians want all seven Afghan refugee camps in Iran to be self-sufficient and run by Afghans. He blamed UNCHR budget cuts for this move.
Many Afghans feel under pressure to leave, with benefits for Afghans being continually cut by the Iranian government. The cuts are part of new regulations, adopted by Tehran in February 2004, intended to induce increased repatriation. In line with this new strategy, UNHCR cut educational assistance to Afghans in Iran and has reduced assistance towards health care. School fees are now compulsory for all Afghan children, who must pay the same rate as Iranians.
These new measures are largely because of the change in status of the Afghan people in Iran since the fall of the Taliban. They are no longer viewed as refugees as the Iranian government says Afghans no longer suffer from persecution at home.
In the past five months, the Iranian authorities have launched a campaign to deport illegal Afghan migrant workers and introducing heavy fines for Iranians who employ them. The number of illegal Afghan immigrants is not known but the government estimates the total to be between 200,000 to 300,000. Many say the number is much higher.
UNHCR is working with the Iranian authorities to find solutions for the remaining Afghans, which includes the possibility of temporary economic migratory status. In the meantime, voluntary repatriations occur on a daily basis all over the country. Last week, over 230 Afghans returned to their homes from the province of Fars in central Iran, the UN refugee agency said.
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