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Afghans deported from Tajikistan

Briefing Notes, 20 September 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 September 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is very concerned about the fate of nine Afghan refugees who were deported back to their homeland early Tuesday by the Tajikistan government.

The refugees, all men, were separated from their families on Monday and detained by the Tajik authorities, we were told. We believe that one of the refugees deported on Tuesday was a minor, a 17 year old boy. We understand that a tenth refugee picked up Monday remains in detention.

UNHCR has written to the Tajik authorities protesting the detention and deportation of these refugees, individuals who may face grave danger back in Afghanistan because of their association with previous Afghan regimes who may still fear for their safety if sent back to Afghanistan.

In recent months we have helped more than 9,200 Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriate from Tajikistan in regular return movements. The latest UNHCR assisted repatriation took place on Wednesday, when some 50 persons were helped home. Some 3,000 refugees remain in Tajikistan.

Refugees in Tajikistan are in a particularly precarious situation following the suspension of screening for refugee status determination by the authorities two years ago. Without a status determination procedure, Afghan refugees in Tajikistan find themselves in a legal limbo. This, we believe, must be corrected immediately.

Despite the improvements that have taken place in Afghanistan over recent months, including the establishment of the Transitional Authority under President Karzai, which have helped to encourage more than 1.7 million people to voluntarily return home, this is not the time to force any recognized refugees to return to Afghanistan.

Some areas of Afghanistan, particularly in the north and also eastern border regions near Pakistan, remain tense. Troops allied to various commanders continue to engage in fighting. More than 920,000 people are still internally displaced and unable to return to their home areas. We believe that the winter will pose a particular hardship for more than 560,000 people, and we are trying to stockpile emergency supplies of blankets, stoves, tents and plastic tarpaulins. Food stocks for the many millions of impoverished Afghans also remain limited.

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At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

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