KABUL, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) - About 490,000 Afghans have been deported from Iran over the past 18 months, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR) told IRIN.
"One hundred and forty thousand undocumented Afghans have been deported so far in 2008, and some 350,000 were deported in 2007," said Salvatore Lombardo, the UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, adding that most of the deportees were "single males" who had gone to Iran in search of work.
Abdul Qadir Zazai, chief adviser to the MoRR in Kabul, told IRIN Tehran was continuing to deport Afghans who are not refugees. Kabul has requested that the deportations be conducted in a humane and gradual manner.
"Every day 1,500-2,000 individuals are expelled from Iran," Zazai said.
"Afghanistan does not have the capacity to absorb large numbers of deportees in a short time," he said.
The Iranian embassy in Kabul was not immediately available for comment. However, Iranian officials have always said it is their right to deport all Afghans who "illegally" enter Iran.
Aid for "the most vulnerable"
According to the UNHCR and the MoRR, over 90 percent of the deportees are young men who go to Iran to look for jobs but who do not qualify for humanitarian assistance when deported to Afghanistan.
"Together with UN agencies we provide minimal assistance only to the most vulnerable deportees," Zazai said.
In response to a massive expulsion in mid-2007 which pushed ill-prepared Afghanistan into a humanitarian emergency, the Afghan government, assisted by aid organisations, set up two transition centres close to the Iranian border to mitigate the impact of large-scale deportations.
Those deemed "most vulnerable", mostly women and children, can stay in the transition centre for up to 48 hours and receive free food, and transportation assistance to help them reach their final destination.
"The UNHCR has a presence in the border area and we will continue to assist the most vulnerable deportees," said Lombardo, adding that over 1,500 deportees had been assisted in the past six months.
Some two million Afghans in Iran
Some one million Afghans are registered as refugees in Iran. They are allowed to stay and work in the country, and their permits may be renewed, the UNCHR said.
The MoRR estimates there are a up to a further one million Afghans in Iran who do not have appropriate residency documents and are therefore eligible for deportation according to Iranian law.
Lack of socio-economic opportunities, conflict and drought are driving thousands of Afghans to Iran and other regional countries.
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