The International Organization for Migration, or IOM, says around 130,000 undocumented Afghan refugees have left Iran since the beginning of 2017.
Iran’s government is forcing many refugees without a visa to return to Afghanistan. Others have not been forced, but are deciding to return on their own.
The Afghans are not sure what to expect in their homeland. Taliban forces now control more than 40 percent of rural territory in the country.
Voluntary and involuntary returns
Hundreds of Afghan refugees are expelled from Iran each day. Iran plans to send 600,000 people back to Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Hafiz Ahmad Miakhel is with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Returnees. He noted that “Last week, 7,695 Afghan refugees returned from Iran, 60-65 percent of whom were deported involuntarily. The majority of them were young individuals, but some were families, including women and children.”
The Afghan government estimates that more than two million Afghans live in Iran. Many settled there after fleeing conflict in their homeland. Some Afghans went to Iran seeking jobs.
About 950,000 are considered refugees.
“Of the 440,000 Afghan refugees who returned to Afghanistan from Iran last year, over 157,000 were deported, the majority of whom were young individuals who were residing illegally in Iran,” Miakhel told VOA. “The involuntary deportation is a clear violation of bilateral and trilateral agreements.”
Afghanistan and Iran: A complex issue
Many Afghans have received permission to go to Iran for jobs that Iranians do not want. Yet pressure has been rising for most of them to be sent home.
In November 2012, the Iranian government announced rules to govern treatment of undocumented foreigners – those lacking a proper visa. Those rules enabled police and custom officials to expel about 1.6 million undocumented foreigners by the end of 2015.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned to Afghanistan — or were deported from Iran.
Rights groups have accused the Iranian government of treating Afghans poorly. They say that while in Iran, the Afghans lack basic rights and access to economic opportunities.
Some refugees have reported being arrested for no reason, especially in Tehran. Police say that most of the arrests are for involvement in the drug trade.
Large influx from Pakistan
The Afghan government says it and refugee agencies have had difficulty dealing with all of the returnees.
Pakistan is also sending Afghan refugees back to the country.
The IOM reports that over 55,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan since the beginning of 2017. The group notes that “most of those returning have lived outside Afghanistan for decades.”
Another group, Human Rights Watch, reports that over a million Afghans have lived in Pakistan for most of the past 40 years. “In response to several deadly security incidents and deteriorating political relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities have mounted a concerted campaign to drive Afghans out of the country,” the report added.
The Afghan government says it is trying to help with voluntary repatriation of refugees from Iran and Pakistan as the “refugee issue is sometimes used as a leverage against Afghanistan.”