Afghanistan signs 1951 Refugee Convention

News Stories, 2 September 2005

© UNHCR/N.Behring-Chisholm
Afghanistan's accession to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol is testimony to the remarkable progress the country has made towards recovery, supported by returnees like these in Kabul.

GENEVA, Sept 2 (UNHCR) Afghanistan has signed the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, a significant sign of recovery for a country that used to be one of the world's largest producers of refugees and asylum seekers.

In a press statement today, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres welcomed Afghanistan's accession to the Convention and Protocol, which takes effect this week after several months of close collaboration between UNHCR and Afghan authorities.

"It is possible at times to forget the true meaning of the refugee Convention, but if anyone can understand its significance, it is the people of Afghanistan," said Guterres. "During the long, dark years of fighting and extremism, millions of Afghans had to flee their homeland to seek refuge elsewhere. It is testimony to the remarkable progress Afghanistan has made on the road to recovery that it is now able to join the Convention."

With the accession, Afghanistan enshrines in international law its long-standing tradition of asylum. Despite being embroiled in decades of war and civil conflict, Afghanistan kept its doors open to refugees notably those from Central Asia, like the tens of thousands who fled Tajikistan's civil war in the early 1990s.

Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, more than 3.5 million Afghans have repatriated from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan in one of the largest refugee repatriation operations in UNHCR's 54-year history. The UN refugee agency has also been working in Afghanistan to support the authorities' efforts to reintegrate the millions of newly-returned people.

"The accession to the international refugee Convention and Protocol is a very significant step for Afghanistan," the Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Dr. Azam Dadfar, said in Kabul. "So many Afghans have experienced exile and know how important it is to be treated with respect and dignity as refugees. We are, therefore, particularly pleased to be joining the community of signatory states, to strengthen our cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to add our voice to those committed to provide protection to refugees. Afghanistan will be proud to respect its obligations under these important international instruments."

Afghanistan is the 146th country to ratify either the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Iran which has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the years has also signed the Convention. UNHCR hopes that Pakistan, which has also generously hosted millions of Afghans, will soon join as well.

There are now just under 1 million Afghan refugees in Iran. A recent census showed that more than 3 million Afghans live in Pakistan, though not all of them are "of concern" to UNHCR. A significant number are expected to choose to repatriate, but it is also likely that some Afghans will want to remain in their countries of asylum, where some have been living for decades as well-integrated, productive members of society.

Recognising a return to more normal conditions in the region, consultations have been underway between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the international community on the development of a broader management framework that would provide not only for refugees, but also for other forms of population movement. In this context, Afghanistan's accession to the Convention marks yet another step towards greater regional stability and cooperation.