Refugees Return Would Help Reconstruction of Afghanistan

March 7, 2002
TEHRAN -- The director general of the Interior Ministry's Department for Expatriates and Foreign Nationals said that the return of Afghan refugees in Iran to their country could greatly assist the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Speaking in a press conference here yesterday, Ahmad Hosseini elaborated on the Iranian government's policies on repatriation of Afghan refugees and said that Iran Afghan nationals acquired good technical skills and earned adequate incomes. "Since the Afghans have attained the necessary professional experience in Iran, they can assist the interim government of Afghanistan," he added.

Considering the formation of the interim government in Afghanistan and the improved conditions in that country, Hosseini said that if a refugee is willing to return to his homeland, nobody can prevent him.

He said that according to Interior Ministry statistics, there are 2,563,827 refugees in Iran, 2,355,427 of whom are Afghans, 202,878 Iraqis and 5,522 nationals from other countries.

Some 10 percent of the foreign nationals in Iran have not participated in the census, he said, adding that based on the plan for repatriation of Afghans residing in Iran, they should return to their country over the next two years.

Since the beginning of the current Iranian year (started March 21, 2001) over 145,000 Afghans who had official documents have returned to Afghanistan through the provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan and Khorasan. Another plan for repatriation of Afghans is an "organized return" based on which Afghans with legal documents should leave Iran as of April 9, 2002 within the framework of a trilateral agreement between Iran, Afghanistan and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

From the beginning of the next Iranian year (March 21, 2002), Afghans residing in Iran who do not have legal identification documents would be given six months to leave. After that time, Afghans would only be allowed to enter or reside in Iran by using official passports and obtaining valid visas.

Referring to the U.S. threats to attack Iraq and the possibility of an increase in the number of Iraqi refugees in such an event, he said that a plan would be implemented with the cooperation of the United Nations, according to which Iraqi refugees would be housed in the border region.