There are also accusations that Iranian officials have recently confiscated refugees' identity documents, leaving large numbers of Afghans without documentation. Many of these recently expelled Afghans find themselves in Farah and Nimroz Provinces, both areas of high insecurity where many of the traditional aid organizations opt to not operate due to security concerns. This recent series of deportations comes as a shock for many families even though Iran had previously indicated this course of action might occur. What makes this situation particularly difficult for Afghan families is the suddenness with which the deportations have occurred from the returnees' perspective, and the seeming lack of consideration for those Afghans who in fact had permission to legally remain in the country.
As of 1 Jan 2006, Afghanistan was listed by the UNHCR as the country of origin for the largest population of registered refugees in the world, but the UNHCR has stated that many of these recently deported people were not registered with their agency and are thus not eligible for assistance from UNHCR. Regardless of legal refugee status, Afghanistan's government has issued pleas to Iran to discontinue this recent campaign as they simply do not have the capacity to address the growing crisis of displaced people. This situation has led to protests in the Afghan capital of Kabul on 1 May outside of the Iranian embassy as well as the removal of such political leaders as Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta on 12 May. Spanta was dismissed by parliament for failing to stop the expulsion of Afghan refugees. He is the second cabinet minister to lose his seat because of this situation this week, the first being Refugees Minister Mohammad Akbar on 10 May .
The issue of repatriation is not new in Afghanistan and, in fact, ACTED and the Government of Afghanistan have been working together for many years to assist these returning families. ACTED hopes to keep this tradition of cooperation alive and to be able to assist this latest group of returnees.
Past Situation of Returnees in Afghanistan
Between 1979 and 1992 a full 1/5 of the population of Afghanistan were driven from the country due to fighting and insecurity. Between 2002 and 2005, 4.5 million of these refugees returned to Afghanistan. 1.47 million people returned from Iran mostly through the assistance of UNHCR facilitated repatriation programs. The below map illustrates the historical paths of return for Afghans living as refugees. Today, a full six years after the initial publication of this map, the paths remain the same.
Recently returned Afghans from Iran and Pakistan work together to construct a shelter in the Land Distribution site of Khowja Alwan, Baghlan Province.
In 2002, the first year of the UNHCR's repatriation program, returns were very high for every region of Afghanistan. This figure dropped in subsequent years and the overall pace of returns slowed. By June 2006 only 24,780 Afghans were returning home throughout the year, representing a 66% drop from the June 2005 figure of 73,373. This was a 48% reduction from the June 2004 figure of 47,940. This falling trend in numbers of returns was, of course, prior to 21 April 2007. In these past weeks Iran has expelled nearly as many Afghans as were repatriated in the entire year of 2005. Though the Government of Afghanistan has made some provision for these returnees since 2005's issuance of presidential decree 104 establishing "Land Distribution Sites" (a governmental attempt to unite landless returnees with plots of land where they could build shelters) this recent influx will far exceed the capacity of the government to resettle these returnees.
ACTED's Response to the Influx of Returnees
ACTED Afghanistan is researching ways that it might be able to assist this recent influx of returnees. ACTED Afghanistan is interested in projects similar to its current work on the governments "Land Distribution Sites". ACTED has been one of the leading organizations to facilitate these Land Distribution Sites with the support of the US State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM) since its inception in 2005.
The "Land Distribution Scheme" initiated in early 2005 was formalized by Presidential Decree 104 in December 2005. As part of this program the Government of Afghanistan has designated 300,000 plots of land in 29 provinces to the scheme. The Land Distribution sites are on barren, un-developed land which need, at a very minimum, housing and basic public infrastructure (such as water supply, education and health facilities, waste disposal, power supply, access etc.). In 2 provinces, Baghlan (with the Khowja Alwan site) and in Balkh (with the Dashti Shor site) ACTED is working with local beneficiaries to build shelters, access, install water points, latrines and has just begun construction on a school and a clinic in each site. In Khowja Alwan alone 740 beneficiaries have begun shelter construction on their plots with the instruction and advice of ACTED engineers and field staff. In Dashti Shor, ACTED has recently discovered sweet water as a result of a deep well digging project. These minor victories mean a great deal to the nearly 1,500 ACTED beneficiary families who are trying to restart their lives on these sites.
A completed shelter built by an ACTED beneficiary in the Land Distribution Site Khowja Alwan, Baghlan Province.
ACTED will continue to search for ways to assist returning Afghans through the Land Distribution Scheme as well as other shelter and basic infrastructure projects.
For more Information:
For additional information about ACTED Afghanistan's activities please feel free to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.