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Iran: number of repatriating Afghans continues to rise

Briefing notes

Iran: number of repatriating Afghans continues to rise

20 August 2002

The number of Afghans repatriating from Iran continues to rise. Since 9 April - the start of the UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation programme there - close to 150,000 people have returned to Afghanistan, one third of them in the last month. In recent weeks we've seen a steady increase in the number of voluntary returnees - Sunday saw the highest number cross the border in a single day, as some 5,700 persons left following the weekend, while yesterday's returns stood at some 3,500 persons.

Returns from Iran are now almost 40 percent of our original planning figures - some 400,000 Afghans - for the year. Due to the recent surge, particularly from Sisten-Baluchistan Province where twice as many people have registered to return in the first half of this month as during the entire month of July, we reinforced staff to help deal with a backlog of refugees waiting to register. Inside Afghanistan, we've erected another 150 tents in Herat where returnees shelter overnight before moving onwards to their home areas.

Individual men make up 40 percent of the returnees from Iran. A majority of the people approaching registration centres are documented refugees who are then de-registered before leaving the country, but some 40 percent of the assisted returnees are undocumented Afghans. School registration in Iran has not yet begun, but we have not received any formal word that Afghan children will not be allowed to enrol as normal. Many Afghan refugees have been educated in Iran, and ten percent of the recent returnees received secondary or higher education.

Afghans participating in the joint return initiative are transported up to the frontier and receive transport assistance of between $5 and $30 per person depending upon their final destination. UNHCR gives refugees leaving under the initiative a plastic tarpaulin, soap and hygienic material, while WFP distributes wheat flour to each family.

Returns from neighbouring Pakistan have considerably slowed in recent days, with some 3,000 people going back daily. Spontaneous returns from both countries continue; for example, we've seen some 41,000 Afghans leave Iran since April, according to Iranian authorities.