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Key repatriation agreement for Afghans in Iran signed in Geneva

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Key repatriation agreement for Afghans in Iran signed in Geneva

3 April 2002

A key refugee repatriation agreement was signed Wednesday in Geneva by the governments of Iran and Afghanistan, and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The Tripartite Agreement, which lays down the main legal and operational framework for the voluntary return of Afghan refugees in Iran, was signed at a ceremony at the UN's Geneva headquarters by the Afghan Interim Authority's Minister for Repatriation, Mr Enayatullah Nazeri, the Director of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigration Affairs, Mr. Ahmad Husseini, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.

"This is a highly significant agreement," said Lubbers. "It is a solid, detailed document that sets the necessary parameters for an orderly return of Afghans. For example, it allows them to take home all their belongings and savings, maximising the prospects for a sustainable return. Most important of all, it stresses that the return should be voluntary."

The agreement, which contains 29 Articles, covers a wide range of legal and operational matters affecting returning refugees, both while they are still in Iran and once they have returned to Afghanistan. It formalizes UNHCR's role in monitoring the voluntariness of the return, and guarantees the agency's free access to refugees and returnees on both sides of the border.

The agreement also stresses the importance of refugees being fully informed of conditions in their home areas before they leave Iran, and lays down the Afghan authorities' responsibility to ensure that, once home, they are not discriminated against, harrassed or persecuted.

The Interim Authority of Afghanistan also undertakes to facilitate the recovery of lost land or property. It also agrees to recognize the legal status of the refugees, including births, deaths, marriages and divorces, as well as educational and professional qualifications gained in Iran. Another important provision allows spouses and children of Afghan refugees who are not themselves Afghan citizens to legally enter the country with their families

On Tuesday, UNHCR said it had almost run out of funding for its Afghanistan operations, and urged donors to keep pace with the speed of return. Once the joint repatriation programme with Iran starts up in the coming days, the numbers returning are likely to escalate even further.

A joint repatriation programme with the government of Pakistan that began on 1 March has already assisted more than 150,000 to return in just over a month, a rate which UNHCR officials described as phenomenal so early in the year.

UNHCR estimates there are more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran and around 2 million in Pakistan, with several hundred thousand more scattered across the world. Since repatriation first began in 1988, more than 4.5 million Afghans have returned home, some 3 million of them with assistance from UNHCR. The Tripartite Agreement signed Wednesday was the first such agreement since 1992, when there was a brief period of optimism following the fall of the communist regime that had steered the country through a disastrous decade of Soviet occupation and civil war.