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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 08:18 GMT
Tehran tells Afghans to go home
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Afghan girl carrying boy on her back in Iranian refugee camp
Tehran has removed free education for Afghan refugees
Senior officials in Tehran have publicly called on Afghan refugees to return to their country.

It is the first time the Iranian government has been so forthright about its policy on repatriation.

There are more than a million Afghan refugees in Iran and they have been given 16 months to go home.

Tehran is said to have been encouraging their departure by withdrawing access to free services.

'Time to go home'

Ahmad Hosseini, Director General of the Bureau of Foreign Immigrants, told the BBC repatriation was top of the government's agenda.

He said Afghans who had fled to Iran were no longer refugees because their country was secure and had a new government.

Tehran has made clear that those remaining in Iran would have to pay for their own living costs and would no longer receive subsidised services.

Mr Hosseini denied that requiring Afghans to pay school fees for the first time this year was a way of pressurising them to leave.

He said it was merely a restriction, and that education was just one of the free services that would be withdrawn from Afghan refugees.

"Afghans, he told the BBC, "should understand that this was not the time to study, but to go home."

Later he clarified his views to say that he believed that now is the time for Afghan refugees to go home and study in Afghanistan.

Mr Hosseini said given that the UNHCR had withdrawn its funding for Afghan refugees in Iran, it should not get involved.

Iran has made clear its repatriation policy to international aid workers in private but has only now begun discussing it in public.


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