UNHCR chief welcomes Iran commitment to maintain asylum space

News Stories, 18 September 2012

© UNHCR/M.H.Salehiara
An Afghan refugee in a sewing workshop in Iran, which has pledged to keep open the asylum space for refugees.

TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, September 18 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has welcomed assurances by the Islamic Republic of Iran that it will continue to provide protection space for hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.

The commitment was given to Guterres during meetings on Saturday with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, and Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. "They confirmed their commitment to protecting and assisting the refugees and the voluntary return of Afghan refugees," said Bernie Doyle, UNHCR's representative in Iran.

The High Commissioner was also briefed in detail about an Iranian programme for providing a legal framework for Afghans who are in Iran without documentation through the issuing of passports by the Afghan authorities and temporary residence permits by the Iranian government.

Guterres also talked to refugee representatives during his visit, his third to Iran as High Commissioner. He visited a voluntary repatriation centre in Tehran, which also issues ID cards and refugee registration cards. He was issued with a sample card.

Guterres recognized Iran's generous policy towards Afghan refugees over more than three decades. "I call on the international community to engage more actively in support of the Afghan refugees in Iran and to increase the resettlement programme," he said.

Iran currently hosts some 800,000 Afghan refugees. Earlier this year, it drew up a "solutions strategy" with Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries. The strategy was endorsed at an international gathering in Geneva in May.

The High Commissioner also pledged during his meetings to continue UNHCR's engagement with voluntary repatriation and to enhance its efforts on education and health.

UNHCR runs a ground-breaking health insurance programme with the government and a local insurance company and as a symbolic contribution funds education and skills training for thousands of young Afghan refugees.

At a ceremony on Sunday, Guterres helped unveil an Iranian postage stamp issued to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

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