ANKARA, 27 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - The Iranian government predicts that half a million Afghan refugees will return to their homeland from Iran when the country's voluntary repatriation operation resumes on 29 April, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Iran said on Wednesday.
"Following the government of Iran's wish, 500,000 refugees are anticipated to voluntarily return. Our [UNHCR] own internal planning figures on assistance of refugees are 150,000. That's our first goal for now, but it can be increased," Safak Pavey, UNHCR's public information officer in Iran, said from the capital, Tehran.
Iran is host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world. More than 1.4 million Afghans have returned from Iran since April 2002, 844,000 of whom have received assistance from UNHCR.
Since the UN refugee agency began its Afghan voluntary repatriation programme in 2002, more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran - the two largest host countries to the Afghan diaspora.
"We work in 25 refugee camps and in Voluntarily Repatriation Centres (VRCs) in Iran. Afghans can come and get information at these centres. If refugees have obstacles, such as legal issues or financial difficulties we have offices that can provide help," the UNHCR spokesman added.
The UN-assisted repatriation process from Iran aims to ensure all Afghan refugees who are registered with the Iranian authorities return on a voluntary basis and is bolstered by assistance with reintegration once in Afghanistan.
There remain 940,000 registered Afghans in Iran, according to a recent registration exercise by Tehran. Together with returnees from Pakistan, the operation is the largest regional return exercise in the history of UNHCR.
... Payvand News - 4/28/06 ... --