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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Iran deal on Afghan refugees
Iran's Torbat e-Jam refugee camp near border
Iran is hosting more than a million Afghan refugees
By Jim Muir in Tehran

The Iranian Government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, have agreed to extend a joint programme for the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees.

So far about 100,000 Afghan refugees have gone home under the programme which has been running for six months.

Sadako Ogata on Iran-Afghanistan border
Mrs Ogata has already visited Pakistan and Afghanistan

There are officially reckoned to be about 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Iran. Unofficially, that figure is believed to be well over two million, many of the refugees without any proper papers.

Officials say a three-month extension to the repatriation programme has been agreed.

Problems

Iranian officials have made no secret of their desire to see as many of the refugees return as possible.

But the scheme has not been without its hitches.

Initially, the returnees were being offered a sum of $40 each to help them on their way.

But that sum was sufficiently tempting for some of them to come back and go through the process again. So the offer has been cut to $20, partly also for budgetary reasons.

Afghan family
An Afghan family heads back home from an Iranian camp

Funding is a continuing problem for the UNHCR's activities in and around Afghanistan with Iran left to carry much of the burden.

During visits to refugee camps on the border on her way to Tehran, Mrs Ogata stressed that many Afghan exiles were concerned about security, human rights and economic conditions inside Afghanistan.

Until those problems are resolved, it is unlikely there will be a mass return of the millions who fled.

The current repatriation scheme is part of a dual process whereby refugees can go through a screening procedure and argue their case for staying legitimately in Iran.

That relieves some of the pressure and anxiety of those whose status is irregular.

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See also:

15 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan refugees face donor fatigue
12 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan refugees head for Tajikistan
12 Aug 00 | South Asia
Refugee surge from Afghan fighting
18 Aug 00 | Europe
UN warns of world refugee crisis
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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