Thousands of Iran-based Afghan refugees demand delay in repatriation
Sunday, 19-Aug-2001 3:50PM
TEHRAN, Aug 19 (AFP) - Several thousand Af ghan refugees demonstrated Sunday in Iran's northeastern holy city of Mashhad demanding a delay in the application of the repatriation program, Afghan sources told AFP.
The Afghan refugees gathered in the Qods stadium in Mashhad, home to one of Iran's largest Afghan communities, demanding a delay in their repatration organised by Iran and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In a speech, head of the Afghan refugee cultural centre in Mashhad, Naqibullah Hosseini Mazari, said the "lives of his compatriots" returning to Afghanistan were "in danger," the source told AFP.
"Our population, which has experienced a war with Russia, is confronted with much greater threats today," Mazari said, calling on Iranian authorities to suspend the repatration programs and lift the ban imposed on Iranians seeking to employ Afghans.
"No refugee will accept to go the camps, and the Afghans prefer to earn their money through proper work," Mazari said stressing that the only solution to the problems of Afghan refugees is the restoration of peace in Afghanistan.
The demonstrators also signed a petition calling on the UNHCR office in Mashhad to hold back on the repatriation project.
Iran's Afghan population has in recent months often been the target of anger from Iranians who argue that they taking away job opportunities.
In late July, UNHCR raised its concerns with the Iranian interior ministry over the attacks.
Iran currently host about two million Afghan refugees.
Even though four million have already returned home since 1989 from Iran and Pakistan, Afghans have been the single largest refugee group in the world for 20 years.
The vast majority of Afghans in Iran live among the local population, while only five percent of them live in camps, according to a UNHCR report.
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