Ahmad Mohammadi Far, the General Director of Foreign Nationals and Refugees for the Iranian Ministry of Interior, at a meeting in Kabul on Monday said that Tehran hopes to fully legalize Afghan refugees in Iran, including providing them health insurance and addressing other ongoing quality of life issues they face.
The comments came at the outset of the 19th tripartite meeting between officials from Afghanistan, Iran and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The gathering is expected to last three days, and is convened annually for the purpose of addressing the problems faced by Afghan refugees in Iran and paving the way for their voluntary return to Afghanistan.
“We want the legalization of Afghan refugees in Iran and we expect to reach an agreement on this issue at the meeting, and the Afghan government also backs our proposal,” Mr. Mohammadi Far said.
The Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Seyed Hussain Alemi, also spoke before the start of the meeting. “We hope to reach a final agreement at the end of this meeting regarding a strategy that could address the continued presence of Afghan refugees and resolve their problems,” he said.
Analysts say security threats, economic struggles and unemployment are the fundamental issues preventing Afghan refugees in Iran from repatriating. “I think the security situation is one of the big obstacles, because as you know there is a conflict still in Afghanistan, it is a conflict that is spreading,” UNHCR representative Maya Ameratunga said.
However, it is also well documented that the refugees often face other difficulties in Iran, such as social marginalization, legal persecution and poor quality of life.
According to the most recent statistics, about 2.5 million Afghan refugees are living in Iran. Of that total, some 1.2 million are said not to have legal documents granting them political asylum.
Minister Balkhi also said on Monday that a Pakistani delegation is expected to arrive in Kabul within three days to attend meetings to disucss the legal status of Afghan refugees in Pakistan after 2016.