KABUL, May 8 (Reuters) - Iran has forced 44,000 Afghans home to their war-torn homeland in recent weeks, splitting families in some cases, the United Nations and the Afghan government said on Tuesday, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.
"There are reports of forced repatriation and there are reports of miserable situations about the families that have been repatriated," chief government spokesman Karim Rahimi said.
"Some family members have been forced to leave, or repatriated, and some are left. This is really a situation that we are concerned about," he said, adding talks were underway with the United Nations and Iran to bring order to the repatriation.
Large numbers of Afghan refugees have been a headache for neighbouring countries for decades.
Almost a million Afghans are registered refugees in Iran.
Pakistan says it has up to 3 million and wants them to go home, saying refugee camps are fertile recruiting grounds for Afghan Taliban insurgents.
The forced repatriation of people classed by Iran as illegal immigrants rather than refugees, is another challenge for Afghanistan.
The country is already struggling with rising violence, rampant corruption and growing disillusionment with the lack of reconstruction after decades of war.
Aid agencies say while some of those being sent home from Iran have been from border areas, and have found their way home, the large numbers returning mean Afghanistan is unable to care for them.
"If they continue to push large numbers of people across the border, the capacity of the government and its partners to deal with it is going to be strained," U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
"It appears that some people have been separated from members of their families. There are cases where people may not have sufficient water or transportation to get home."
About 100,000 to 200,000 people a year are deported from Iran to Afghanistan as illegal workers, mostly migrant workers, Edwards said, but now family members were being deported too.
A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said as many as half a million Afghans overstayed work visas in Iran last year.
Iran and Pakistan have been saddled with millions of refugees since the 1980s, when Afghans fled the fighting with Soviet troops in their homeland.
More than 20 years later, some refugee families are into their second generation born outside their home country.
Pakistan plans to close four camps this year that hold hundreds of thousands of refugees. It had planned to close the camps last year but did not do so, partly due to reluctance to use force.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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