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UNHCR Invstigates return of refugees

UNHCR Agrees To Look At New Ways To Encourage Afghani Refugees To Return From Iran

New York, Oct 11 2006 1:00PM

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Iran and Afghanistan have agreed to look for additional funding and new ways to encourage Afghanis to return home from Iran after numbers plummeted this year following four years of unprecedented returns.

The agreement, reached at the two-day 11th Tripartite Commission meeting in Geneva which concluded Tuesday, included a commitment to more closely examine the circumstances of the roughly 920,000 Afghans still in neighbouring Iran, most of whom have been there for more than 20 years.

"We remain committed to making return and reintegration of Afghanistan sustainable, but we must also be realistic in our expectations. Afghanistan still faces many difficulties,” said High Commissioner António Guterres, who presided over Monday's opening with Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi and Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Mohammad Akbar Akbar.

“We must look more closely into their conditions and their situation to understand how best to support voluntary repatriation in future," said Mr. Guterres, who also reached an agreement with Iran to support vocational skills training and medical assistance for the remaining registered Afghans in Iran.

"This joint project, as well as other initiatives undertaken bilaterally by the presidents of Iran and Afghanistan – which allow skilled Afghans to return while their families can stay legally in Iran for a certain period of time – are excellent examples of how both countries are adapting to new challenges," he added. "These initiatives . . . will allow some to plan their future better and make voluntary returns more sustainable."

In a statement issued after UNHCR-Iran meeting, the two sides agreed to jointly look at ways to "mobilise additional financial assistance for enhancing voluntary repatriation and reintegration in Afghanistan and for providing essential assistance to the remaining registered Afghan refugees and displaced persons in Iran, in particular the most vulnerable."

Pour-Mohammadi urged the international community "to live up to its promises of investing in the reconstruction of Afghanistan" so as to enhance the prospects for higher return figures in the future.

Since 2002 more than 1.5 million Afghans have returned home from Iran, 850,000 with UNHCR's assistance. This year to September there have been 4,500 assisted returns, while 155,000 Afghans returned home spontaneously outside the voluntary repatriation framework.
More than 130,000 Afghans have repatriated from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance so far this year, bringing to 2.87 million the total number who have returned from Pakistan since 2002, while an estimated 2.4 million Afghans still live in Pakistan.

Ends

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