AFP: The UN refugee agency on Wednesday expressed concern about tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who risk expulsion from an Iranian frontier province. TEHRAN (AFP) The UN refugee agency on Wednesday expressed concern about tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who risk expulsion from an Iranian frontier province.
Iran last year declared the province of Sistan Baluchestan bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan a “no go area” for foreigners, meaning refugees must quit the area whether they are legally registered or not.
Visiting UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Erika Feller said 53,000 Afghan refugees risked being expelled from the country as illegals for failing to come forward for a new registration there.
“These are people who for one reason or another may end up ‘illegal’ as they were not able to comply with the registration requirement,” she told reporters.
The head of the interior ministry’s bureau for alien and foreign immigrant affairs, Taghi Ghaemi, confirmed that all Afghans in Sistan Baluchestan who had failed to register would be seen as illegal and expelled.
“Fifty-three thousand did not register under any circumstances,” said Ghaemi at a joint news conference after talks with Feller.
“Therefore since refugees in every country must obey the law of that country… we can say they have violated our laws and regulations and are now regarded as illegals and must leave the country.”
Feller however countered that from the point of view of the United Nations they were still refugees.
“I think it is probably fair to add… that from the perspective of UNHCR these people remain refugees even though they are in an irregular situation.
“This is what we want to work out over the coming months,” she said.
Iran had sparked international concern by embarking on a drive to expel the around one million Afghan refugees residing without registration papers.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have been expelled since the drive began in April 2007 but Iran has now pledged to freeze the process during the harsh winter period following complaints from Kabul.
Feller emphasized she did not discuss the situation of these one million refugees with Ghaemi without proper papers living in Iran as “it is not part of our responsibility.
Iran has expressed frustration with the condemnation of its crackdown on illegal refugees, arguing that no European country had provided sanctuary to such a large number of refugees for so long.
“We have exercised a lot of restraint but as more people have been coming (to Iran) we will have to put in place our regulations very strongly in the future,” said Ghaemi.
Millions of Afghans, mostly Shiite Hazara or Sunni Persian-speaking Tajiks, fled to Iran from the wars that devastated Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to the Taliban. At the peak, Iran was hosting around four million Afghans.
Iran is working with the United Nations and Afghanistan to repatriate the 910,000 registered refugees remaining but the numbers signing up to the scheme have dwindled to a trickle amid worsening security conditions in Afghanistan.