UNHCR chief welcomes Iran commitment to maintain asylum space
TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, September 18 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has welcomed assurances by the Islamic Republic of Iran that it will continue to provide protection space for hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.
The commitment was given to Guterres during meetings on Saturday with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, and Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. "They confirmed their commitment to protecting and assisting the refugees and the voluntary return of Afghan refugees," said Bernie Doyle, UNHCR's representative in Iran.
The High Commissioner was also briefed in detail about an Iranian programme for providing a legal framework for Afghans who are in Iran without documentation - through the issuing of passports by the Afghan authorities and temporary residence permits by the Iranian government.
Guterres also talked to refugee representatives during his visit, his third to Iran as High Commissioner. He visited a voluntary repatriation centre in Tehran, which also issues ID cards and refugee registration cards. He was issued with a sample card.
Guterres recognized Iran's generous policy towards Afghan refugees over more than three decades. "I call on the international community to engage more actively in support of the Afghan refugees in Iran and to increase the resettlement programme," he said.
Iran currently hosts some 800,000 Afghan refugees. Earlier this year, it drew up a "solutions strategy" with Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries. The strategy was endorsed at an international gathering in Geneva in May.
The High Commissioner also pledged during his meetings to continue UNHCR's engagement with voluntary repatriation and to enhance its efforts on education and health.
UNHCR runs a ground-breaking health insurance programme with the government and a local insurance company and as a symbolic contribution funds education and skills training for thousands of young Afghan refugees.
At a ceremony on Sunday, Guterres helped unveil an Iranian postage stamp issued to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.