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AFGHANISTAN: Mass deportation from Iran may cause crisis, official warns

Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
Iran deported over 360,000 undocumented Afghans in 2007
KABUL, 17 February 2008 (IRIN) - The Afghan government has once again called upon the Iranian government to suspend its deportation of thousands of Afghans living in Iran illegally until after winter to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

"We do not have the capacity to receive a large number of deportees from Iran," Shir Mohammad Etibari, minister for refugees and returnees, told IRIN in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 17 February. "We will face a humanitarian crisis if Iran resumes a mass deportation of Afghans."

Iran deported over 360,000 undocumented Afghans in 2007, which caused an unanticipated humanitarian emergency in some parts of Afghanistan, aid agencies said.

With the onset of cold winter months, which are already responsible for the deaths of hundreds of local Afghan residents, the country's capacity to absorb returnees is limited, Etibari said.

In 2008, more than 17,000 Afghans have been deported from Iran, according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees Affairs (MoRRA). At least 7,000 of them, mostly single males, were deported since 16 January, according to MoRRA and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), despite Iranian assurances on that day to suspend expulsions until spring.

Urgent meeting

Afghan officials have requested an urgent meeting with their Iranian counterparts to discuss this issue, Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on 14 February.

"We are still looking forward to the Iranians giving us a date for the meeting," Baheen said on 17 February.

No one at the Iranian Embassy in Kabul was available for comment.

Up to 2 million Afghans in Iran

Photo: UNHCR
UNHCR has helped more than 1.6 million Afghans repatriate from Iran since 2002

About 900,000 Afghans are registered refugees in Iran and are therefore allowed to stay an unspecified period, UNHCR said.

In addition, there are an estimated one million Afghans living in Iran who lack refugee status, according to Iranian media. Iranian authorities consider these Afghans to be illegal migrants who should be deported.

The Afghan government and the UN have acknowledged that "Iran is within its right" to deport illegal Afghan migrants, but have also called for the deportation to be "gradual".

Slow voluntary repatriation

Fewer Afghan refugees are expected to voluntarily repatriate from Iran in 2008 than the 7,000 that returned to Afghanistan from that country in 2007, UNHCR estimates.

"The low scale of voluntary return from Iran can imply that Afghan refugees receive good hospitality there and are not forced to leave," said Ahmad Nader Farhad, a UNCHR spokesman in Kabul.

A worsening security situation in Afghanistan, lack of employment opportunities and poor access to services such as health, education, drinking water and electricity are some of the major reasons which have contributed to a shrinking rate of Afghan refugee repatriation from Iran and Pakistan, found a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission in August 2007.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008

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