Refugee agency condemns continued expulsion of Afghans from United Arab Emirates

News Stories, 1 March 2002

GENEVA, March 1 (UNHCR) With deportations of Afghans from the United Arab Emirates continuing, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees condemned the practice Friday, called for a halt to further expulsions, and asked that it be given access to any remaining detainees.

The refugee agency said that a third Boeing 747 jet aircraft carrying 215 Afghans left Dubai for Kabul this week, following two similar flights last Saturday that forcibly took 900 people back to Afghanistan. Previously, it had been reported that 750 persons had been sent back on the two flights.

"Altogether we have over 1,200 people deported by the Emirates," Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva. "This is quite alarming because we find that it is not the time to deport people who have nowhere to go."

In addition, Janowski said that UNHCR had recently learned that Dubai had sent a planeload with more than 100 Afghan deportees to Kabul in January. Most of those deported had been jailed for a year or longer, apparently for having entered the country illegally.

The agency complained that despite its repeated requests it had not been given access to the Afghans to see if any of them had claims to asylum. It said its regional office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had contacted governmental authorities in Dubai to stress that the deportations be stopped and that UNHCR be given access to any remaining detainees.

"We ask all countries to suspend the deportation of Afghans. The situation inside Afghanistan remains far too precarious, with insecurity and ethnic discrimination still forcing some people to flee the country," Janowski said. "This is not the time to be forcing people back to Afghanistan against their will, and certainly not people who may have claims for asylum."

In another development, UNHCR formally began Friday a broad programme to assist Afghans currently in Iran and Pakistan return home. The first 196 people of an expected 1.2 million refugees, including 400,000 internally displaced persons, were registered at a centre in Takhtabaig near the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Once inside Afghanistan, they will each be given $20 to cover transportation fees back to their home regions.

The agency will also provide the returnees with a repatriation package containing blankets, a plastic tarpaulin, kitchen sets and tools. A three-month food supply will also be provided to those returning.

"We expect the number of Afghans seeking repatriation assistance from UNHCR to increase rapidly over the coming weeks," Janowski said. "After we open other repatriation centres in Pakistan this month, we eventually expect to be able to register up to 35,000 Afghans a day."

Similar registration centres will also be opened in Iran.

UNHCR has requested $271 million for the repatriation effort for the period between October 2001 and December of this year, as well as for the care of the more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees currently in Iran and Pakistan.