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United Nations Refugee Agency: Do Not Abandon the Afghan People
14 Feb 2014

Afghan Student Girls in Rafsanjan Settlement

The Afghan refugee crisis is one of the largest protracted refugee situations in modern history. Millions ofAfghans had to flee their war-stricken country and seek refuge in neighboring countries, namely Iran and Pakistan.

Signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, Iran has been hosting refugees for over three decades. Currently Iran is home to approximately 840,000 Afghan and 42,000 Iraqi registered refugees with over 97% of them residing in urban areas.

This year UNHCR marks 30 years of presence in Iran, having first opened an office in 1984 to assist refugees from Afghanistan. Its presence expanded due to the massive influx of Iraqi refugees following the Gulf War in 1991. Working with UNHCR, Iran has provided sanctuary for those fearing violence and persecution in their home country, providing them with protection and safety and helping them meet their basic needs and requirements.

Tomorrow, 17 February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guterres, arrives in Tehran for a two day mission -his fourth visit in recent years. At a time of evolving global emergencies, the visit of Mr. Guterres is an affirmation that the generosity of the Government of Iran and its people - for hosting one of the largest numbers of refugees in the world - is not forgotten.

Despite its own challenges, the Government of Iran and its people have welcomed refugees; sharing with them services, including healthcare, schooling and livelihood opportunities and providing them with a safe haven.

With the transition in Afghanistan in 2014, the need for humanitarian assistance may very well increase. The voluntary return of the Afghan people can contribute strongly to peace and stability in the region. The visit of the High Commissioner underlines his continuing support to the Afghan people, and also represents a request that the international community does not abandon Afghanistan. And for this, Iran & Pakistan - the world's two largest refugee hosting countries - will need continued international support to maintain asylum space for refugees during these difficult times.

A very important development for the region is the "Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees" which aims to assist host countries until the time for the return of the refugees. The strategy also supports their voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan.

During his visit, the UN High Commissioner for refugees will meet with Iranian officials and International missions stressing the commitment of UNHCR to support the Government of Iran emphasizing the importance of international burden-sharing with the host country.

Follow Gary Lewis @GaryLewisUN
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