Afghans in Iran Face Imminent Expulsion: HRW
KABUL – Iranian authorities were on Monday asked by an influential human rights organization to shelve plans of expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghans after they had their visas expired on Sept 6. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said no Afghan refugee should be expelled until a system fairly considering and challenging their asylum claims was in place to deport them.
The deadline passed without any Iranian government statement about whether and how it may carry out the deportations, the HRW said and warned that any mass deportation of Afghans would amount to a serious violation of international law in the absence of a fair asylum process in Iran.
The Afghan government has estimated 300,000 Afghan visa holders are required to leave Iran by September 6 if no extension is granted. Hundreds of thousands more undocumented Afghans could ultimately be affected.
“Afghans in Iran are caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.” The Iranian government is rushing to push them back across the border at a time when security conditions in Afghanistan are increasingly uncertain and dangerous.” At a minimum, the Iranian government should fairly consider the claims of anyone facing deportation who says they will be harmed upon their return, Human Rights Watch said.
On August 24, Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency reported that all undocumented Afghans and those holding temporary visas under a government program to register undocumented foreigners should leave Iran before their visas expire on September 6 or face imprisonment, fines, and ultimately expulsion.
An Iranian government website confirmed this but said that Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tehran had asked Iran to extend the visas beyond September 6. Afghan government sources say this request has yet to receive a response.
If no visa extension is granted, hundreds of thousands of Afghans will be obliged to leave Iran this week. Only around 800,000 of the 3 million Afghans estimated to live in Iran have legal status as refugees. Another 400,000 to 600,000 Afghans hold temporary visas, while others are undocumented. Many are migrant workers. Afghans play a key role in Iran’s economy, often taking on many of the most dangerous and dirty jobs for very low wages.
From 2010 to June 2012, the Iranian government operated a Comprehensive Regularization Plan (CRP) that offered undocumented Afghans in Iran an opportunity to register officially and apply for temporary visas, passports, and work permits with the possibility, but not the guarantee, that these would be extended. (PAN)