Afghanistan + 1 more

UNHCR supports Iran in its refugee hosting bid

Tehran, June 20, IRNA - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday voiced support and lauded Iran for top-level and valuable services to an enormous refugee populations, flocking and seeking refuge in the country to be immune of conflicts and their aftershocks.

Addressing a press conference here on Monday, the UNHCR newly appointed representative to Tehran Sten A. Bronee said UNHCR hopes to find a solution to the Afghan refugee problem in cooperation with Iranian officials.

Bronee said UNHCR is cooperating with the Iranian and Afghan governments to secure voluntary repatriations of Afghan refugees from Iran.

He said UNHCR is well aware of the heavy burden of hosting a large number of refugees that Iran has been shouldering and wishes to extend hand of support for repatriation of them.

The UNHCR official said that 400,000 Afghans were repatriated through 11,000 buses and 15,000 trucks through the UN agency's assistances.

He said a commission had also been assisting the repatriating Afghans deal with their legal problems, including their properties.

The official said the UNHCR has taken "courage" as the theme of its this year activity.

He said it certainly does take courage to be a refugee and it takes courage not to give up hope.

He added that refugees had the courage to start a new life against daunting odds, eventually to become contributing and enriching members of society once more.

The UN official, who served in Jordan as the UNHCR representative for three years, said a celebration of courage in Iran on World Refugee Day has been postponed and there are plans to celebrate the occasion in presence of the refugees.

Iran has been host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world, read a UNHCR press release, a copy of which was made available to the mediapersons attending the press conference.

The handout read that at its peak, over three million Afghans were living in the country.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 there has been a steady exodus of Afghans returning to their homeland, it said, adding that for the young, it is a journey to a country they have never seen.

As of January 2005, there were 960,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran, it read.

However, it adds, as the voluntary repatriation back to Afghanistan is ongoing, the numbers are also changing.

Regarding Iraqi refugees, as of January 2005, the estimated number of registered Iraqi refugees was about 80,000.

As for the current situation of refugees in Iran, Bronee said most of the refugees in Iran are settled in urban areas and the rest in few camps.

Sixty percent of the refugee community has been in Iran since 15 years and many of the children are born in Iran, said Bronee, adding therefore, they feel very much part of the Iranian culture and ooking for allowance to settle amongst Iranian communities.

Camps are mainly run by the Government's support and some self-management projects are being introduced to enable the refugees to be self-sufficient.

However, despite years of hospitality and strong cooperation with UNHCR in facilitating assistance to displaced people from neighboring communities, recently the Iranian government has stepped up efforts to ensure Afghans go home.

On the UNHCR assistance to refugees in Iran, UNHCR's assistance has for many years primarily focused on providing support to about 30,000 Afghan and Iraqi refugees living in camps and settlements.

There has been very little direct assistance from UNHCR to the Afghan and Iraqi refugees who have settled locally in Iranian towns and among Iranian communities.

Thanks to a very generous asylum policy, read the handout, it has been possible for these refugees to find areas of employment which have enabled them to earn a basic income to support their families.

The press release said in 2005, UNHCR will continue working with the governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan with a regional perspective to facilitate voluntary repatriation within the legal frameworks provided by Tripartite agreements.

Considering voluntary repatriation of Iraqi refugees, read the press release, most of whom expressed eagerness to return to Iraq soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein regime, the ongoing security problem inside Iraq is still a difficulty.