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Iran Forcing Out Afghan Refugees, charges UN - 2002-08-12


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says Iran is pressuring Afghan refugees to return home against their will, but Tehran denies the charge.

UNHCR spokeswoman Maki Shinohara told reporters Sunday that the relief agency is scrambling to build facilities in the western Afghan city of Herat to hold the expected flood of returnees. She says 10,000 refugees returned from Iran in the first week of August - a substantial increase over last month, when the average weekly number was 6,500.

The spokeswoman also says most of the refugees are members of families who have been in Iran for five or six years, not potential Taleban and al-Qaida renegades who fled the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

The U.N. refugee official says many Afghans returning home complain that Iranian authorities pressured them to leave. She also says forced repatriation violates an agreement signed by Iran, Afghanistan and the United Nations in April.

However, the Iranian interior ministry has denied the charge. It says Iran has reached an oral agreement with the U.N. agency to interview undocumented Afghans, who are obligated to leave Iran under an accord signed last week.

A ministry spokesman also says the government has extended the deadline for the undocumented refugees to register themselves and receive travel papers to repatriation centers on the border. The official also denied a UNHCR statement saying Tehran has given the agency access to Afghan detention centers in Iran.

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