Iran grants UNHCR access to detained Afghans and right to review asylum claims
TEHRAN, Iran, August 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has welcomed an agreement with the Iranian government that grants UNHCR access to Afghans detained in Iran and permission to establish a screening programme to review their asylum claims.
The deal was reached during a meeting on Wednesday between UNHCR Chief of Mission Philippe Lavanchy and the Director General of Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants (BAFIA), Ahmad Hosseini, in Tehran.
Under the agreement, which Lavanchy described as a "significant development", the UN refugee agency will have access to detention centres throughout Iran where Afghan nationals threatened with deportation are being held. It will also be able to conduct interviews with anyone there who may have asylum claims.
"UNHCR's mandate is two-fold, to protect bona fide refugees and to assist them," said Lavanchy. "Under the agreement reached with BAFIA, we will now be in a position to identify genuine refugee cases who are at risk of being deported, and therefore fulfil that key protection element of our mandate."
In July, the Iranian authorities announced that all unregistered and undocumented Afghans in Iran must register with the local authorities and obtain exit permits from the country by August 11. Those who fail to do so would be dealt with according to Iran's laws and regulations.
"The August 11 deadline does not apply to documented Afghans," stressed Lavanchy. "Nor does it change the terms of the UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation programme, which provides for the repatriation of 400,000 Afghans - both documented and undocumented - in the first year of the operation."
With the new agreement, BAFIA has assured the UN refugee agency that Afghans found to be holders of valid documents will be released unconditionally and that undocumented Afghans who are considered by UNHCR to have a valid case for refugee status under the new screening programme will be permitted to remain in Iran.
The UN refugee agency is currently making arrangements to implement the screening process in co-operation with BAFIA.
More than 124,000 Afghans have returned from Iran since April, when UNHCR and the governments of Iran and Afghanistan started a joint voluntary repatriation programme. The programme states that all Afghans in Iran should have access to UNHCR-assisted repatriation services. By implication, that means those who are registered with the Iranian authorities and those who are not.