Tripartite meeting on returns to Afghanistan
Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR yesterday began two days of discussions here in Geneva on voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan. High Commissioner António Guterres, Minister of the Interior of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mr. Pour Mohammadi, and Minister for Refugees and Repatriation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mr. Mohammad Akbar Akbar opened the 11th Tripartite Commission Meeting on Voluntary Repatriation to Afghanistan. Monday's meeting was attended by leading donor countries and international organisations, and will continue today at the working level.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Guterres paid tribute to the exceptional solidarity and generosity of the government and people of Iran for hosting refugees for more than a quarter of a century. He also commended the government and people of Afghanistan for their continuing courage and resilience.
Following the Tripartite Commission meeting, the High Commissioner and Minister Pour Mohammadi held bilateral talks, which included prospects for further repatriation, reintegration needs inside Afghanistan, protection concerns, and assistance interventions. A Joint Project was signed on a range of assistance projects aimed at improving skills through vocational training programmes and providing education and medical assistance for the remaining Afghans in Iran. Copies of the Joint Statement issued by the High Commissioner and the Minister are available at the back of the room.
Mr. Pour Mohammadi was visiting Geneva upon an invitation extended by the High Commissioner during his visit to Iran in November last year. As Minister of the Interior, Mr. Pour Mohammadi oversees the Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA), which is UNHCR's main interlocutor.
For more than a quarter of a century Iran has hosted one of the largest ever populations of refugees, and today still hosts some 920,000 registered Afghans and 54,000 Iraqis. Since 2002 over 1.5 million Afghans have returned home from Iran, 850,000 with UNHCR's assistance. An additional 200,000 Iraqis have also been repatriated since the 2003 change of regime in Iraq. This year's returns from Iran has been the lowest in years, to just over 4,500 until September 2006. Some 155,000 Afghans have returned spontaneously outside the voluntary repatriation framework.