Iran expels 8,000 Afghans without works permits, refugee status


Herat (Afghanistan) : The government of Afghanistan has called on Iran to stop deporting thousands of Afghan citizens without work permits or refugee status, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN.

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“Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to any mass deportation during winter,” said Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the ministry, adding that the country lacked the capacity to integrate a large number of deportees.

In April and May this year, Iranian authorities deported thousands of Afghans – a move that caused a humanitarian problem for ill-prepared Afghanistan.

Iran slowed down the expulsions after the government of President Hamid Karzai, the UN and several other international organisations criticised the move and called for a more gradual deportation process.

However, Afghan officials in western Herat province, bordering Iran, say the deportations have restarted in the past 10 days, with at least 500 Afghans being sent home daily.

“Since Oct 23, about 8,000 people have been deported from Iran to Herat province,” said Shamsuddin Hamid, director of the provincial department of refugee and returnee affairs.

The Iranian embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the issue.

Most deportees are young, single men who migrated to Iran mostly in search of employment and economic opportunities, aid agencies say.

Provincial officials, however, are concerned that hundreds of women, children and elderly people have also been evicted.

“There are deported women whose husbands still remain in Iran,” Hamid told IRIN. “There are also deported men whose children and wives are left in Iran,” he added.

UN agencies have helped Afghan authorities set up two transition centres in Nemroz and Herat provinces where deportees receive assistance and shelter for up to 48 hours. Some also receive help to reach their final destinations inside the country, according to the UN.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says there are more than 900,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran. The government has given assurances it will not force Afghan refugees to return home, UNHCR has confirmed.

However, the large numbers of Afghans who do not have refugee status and are considered illegal are not protected by UNHCR.

Since 2002, about four million Afghans – three million from Pakistan and about 850,000 from Iran – have been repatriated to Afghanistan with UN help, according to UNHCR.

Meanwhile, at least 35 people, allegedly with valid refugee identity cards, have also been deported to Herat in the past 10 days, provincial officials said.

Salvatore Lombardo, head of UNHCR mission in Afghanistan, said the organisation was verifying these reports.

Iran has reportedly ordered all foreigners, including thousands of Afghan refugees, to leave Sistan and Baluchestan province.