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UNHCR: Iran Will Help with Return of Afghan Refugees - 2002-04-03

The U.N. refugee assistance agency, UNHCR, says an agreement signed Wednesday by Iran and Afghanistan will facilitate the voluntary return of tens-of-thousands of Afghan refugees. According to the UNHCR, since the start of a program of assisted returns from Pakistan on March 1, more than 150,000 Afghan refugees have returned home.

The agreement signed by Afghanistan's interim government, Iran and the UNHCR, sets out guidelines for an orderly return of hundreds-of-thousands of Afghans living in Iran, and emphasizes that returns should be voluntary.

It allows them to take their property and savings when they return. Afghanistan also agrees to facilitate the recovery of lost land or property, and to recognize returnees' legal status, such as educational and professional qualifications, births, deaths and marriages.

The agreement stresses the importance of refugees being fully informed of conditions in their home areas before they leave Iran. Under the accord, Afghan authorities are responsible for protecting returnees from discrimination or persecution.

Afghan Minister for Repatriation Enayatullah Nazeri thanked host countries, such as Iran, for their generosity, but urged them to allow Afghan refugees to choose for themselves the right time to return home. He emphasized that returns should be voluntary.

Many Afghans living in Iran acquired vocational training and skills now useful in rebuilding their country.

U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhtar Brahimi also urged donor countries to make good on their pledges to aid Afghan refugees returning home.

Donor countries have contributed $128 million of $271 million pledged for refugee assistance. But the refugee agency said it is quickly running out of money at a time when the pace of refugee return is expected to escalate following Wednesday's agreement.