Iran Committed to Voluntary, Safe Return of Afghan Refugees

Iran Committed to Voluntary, Safe Return of Afghan Refugees
Iran Committed to Voluntary, Safe Return of Afghan Refugees

Representatives of the governments of Afghanistan and Iran and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees in Iran, at the 19th Tripartite Commission meeting between the two governments in Kabul on Sunday.

They agreed that innovative approaches and enhanced outreach are needed to support the voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of Afghan returnees, according to a UNHCR press release. The last meeting was held in January 2013.

The Tripartite Commission constitutes part of the larger Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), which provides a regional framework for coordinated action on behalf of the refugees, millions of whom have lived in exile, mostly in Iran and Pakistan, for more than three decades.

While recognizing the challenges that still remain for full and effective reintegration of Afghan refugees, the parties emphasized the positive steps that can be taken to support voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration, including regular exchange of information between the two governments, cross-border cooperation on livelihoods initiatives, and prioritization of returnees in the  Afghan social protection and development initiatives envisaged under Afghanistan’s new comprehensive voluntary repatriation and reintegration strategy.

The meeting emphasized the importance of developing novel approaches to support return and reintegration, such as the Enhanced Voluntary Return and Repatriation Package, which aims to complement cash assistance to returnees on arrival in Afghanistan with additional financial assistance spread over the first six months of starting a new life in their home country.  The scheme aims to promote construction of shelter or pursuit of livelihoods opportunities, as a complement to other forms of assistance such as land allocation.

 Longstanding Commitment

Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation Sayed Hussein Alimi Balkhi, thanked Iran for its longstanding commitment to hosting Afghan refugees, as well as cooperation in the context of regional initiatives designed to support voluntary repatriation and effective reintegration. “The Afghan government is committed to making the voluntary repatriation of its citizens among its highest national priorities,” Balkhi said. 

Iran’s Director General of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA), Ahmad Mohammadifar, acknowledged the Afghan initiative in giving returnees a prominent position in social protection programs, including job creation plans, social and affordable housing initiatives, and land allocation.

“The need for new thinking on return is clear, and we are encouraged to see Afghanistan re-examining its policies and looking for ways to further support the returning refugees.”

 Unique Opportunity

UNHCR  representatives in Afghanistan and Iran, Maya Ameratunga and Sivanka Dhanapala respectively, emphasized the importance of the current post-transition era in Afghanistan, which presents “a unique opportunity for proactively seeking lasting solutions for Afghan refugees.”  They highlighted the need to ensure that returnees are included in the new reform agendas of the Afghan national unity government and commended Afghanistan and Iran for ensuring that their policies on Afghan refugees are aligned and mutually reinforcing.

“UNHCR and the international community will continue to support regional approaches to ending the protracted displacement of Afghan refugees, recognizing that Afghanistan’s neighbors, as responsible members of the international community, have consistently fulfilled their international obligations and continue to do so, as voluntary and dignified return takes place gradually,” said Ameratunga.

Dhanapala said, “After over 30 years, we are approaching a critical juncture in the Afghan refugee situation, where we must find a convergence of interests in the pursuit of lasting solutions.  Today’s discussion marks a significant step in that direction.”

The next Tripartite Commission will meet in Tehran in August 2016.