Report: Afghans in Iran face forcible deportation, abuse
By CID STANDIFER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 20, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan — The bureaucracy faced by Afghan refugees in Iran has become so tangled that many who deserve refugee status under United Nations rules have been expelled, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
Iran has instituted a set of regulations that are nearly impossible to navigate, especially for poor and often illiterate refugees, the rights group said. These regulations put Afghan refugees at high risk of deportation, a process that often includes abuse by police and the separation of families.
Almost 1 million Afghans are recognized by Iran as refugees, and as many as 3 million Afghans, including those who fled Afghanistan’s string of wars, currently live in the neighboring country, according to the report, published Wednesday.
In 2003, the Iranian government issued most Afghan nationals in the country identity cards under what is known as an Amayesh procedure. But since then, Afghans and Iranian officials told Human Rights Watch, it has been essentially impossible to get an Amayesh card and register for refugee status. Those who already hold Amayesh cards, which the U.N. considers a recognition of refugee status, have been forced to re-register at irregular intervals under obtuse bureaucratic rules, the report said. Once slated for deportation, refugees have no way to appeal.
As a result, many Afghans entitled to refugee status have been kicked out, the report said, and Iran now deports about 700 Afghan refugees per day.
“While we found no evidence of a systematic policy or effort on the part of Iranian authorities specifically aimed at deporting registered refugees back to Afghanistan,” the report said, “increasingly burdensome Iranian restrictions on Afghan refugees increase the risk that Afghans with genuine fears of persecution or other serious harm in Afghanistan risk being unlawfully deported back to their country.“
The report cited interviews from adults and teenagers kicked out of Iran, most of whom it said were dumped on the Afghan side of the Islam Qala border crossing. While some were migrant laborers who had been working illegally in Iran, others were refugees who were born on Iranian soil and were now abandoned in what was for them a strange land. Some said their families had been ripped apart, as they were deported separately from their children or spouses. Of the 90 interviews Human Rights Watch conducted, 41 were with minors who were deported alone.
Refugees also suffered abuse at the hands of Iranian police, according to the report. The organization cited an interview with a 16-year-old boy named Daoud who said local police beat him in the head with a baton because he couldn’t pay the $4 deportation fee. He was then sent to a detention facility, where detainees were beaten by guards and given little food.
Human Rights Watch says the Afghan government is negotiating from a weak position with Iran, since Iran can start sending more refugees across the border at any time.
Islamudin Jurat, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, said that Iran regularly violates Afghan returnees’ rights.
“Unfortunately, the (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the (International Organization for Migration) in Iran are getting billions of dollars of fundings for their activities, but they are not doing anything for Afghan refugees there,” he said.
He said that they have talked to Iranian authorities about deportations he called “quick” and “irresponsible.”
“Once they get deported, we try our best to help them on the border” he said.
The report points out that Afghanistan has thus far proved unable to cope with the flood of returnees from around the world since the Taliban fell in 2001. About 40 percent can’t return to their hometowns because of insurgents or landmines, so many end up as internally displaced persons, often ending up in camps around Kabul.
Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to allow new refugees to apply for official status and let those who have lost their refugee status to appeal deportation decisions.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.