Afghanistan says 760,000 refugees risk deportation from Iran

A group of Afghan migrant workers enter Afghan territory after leaving Iran at the Islam Qala border in Herat province November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoib (Reuters)

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan will send a delegation to Iran to ask the government to extend temporary visas to allow 760,000 Afghan refugees who have no documents and risk deportation to stay on for at least a year, an Afghan government spokesman said on Wednesday. There are almost 1 million registered Afghan refugees in Iran, according to the United Nations, most of whom arrived before 2001 when U.S.-led troops toppled the hard-line Taliban Islamist regime. But those who arrived afterwards are required to have their permits assessed on an individual basis, making it harder for them to obtain the paperwork needed to be officially registered, according to the United Nation's refugee agency. "The delegation will request the Iranian government to extend the visas for at least one more year," said the Afghan chief executive's deputy spokesman, Javid Faisal. In June, Iran's semi-official news agency Tasnim said that temporary visas were extended to unregistered Afghan refugees for six months from mid-June. The Afghan government says there are 760,000 such unregistered Afghans and Faisal said their temporary visas were due to expire in 20 days, meaning they risked deportation. The Iranian foreign ministry declined to comment. Afghanistan is the United Nation's largest repatriation operation, but fewer refugees are agreeing to return because of increasing violence and deteriorating economic conditions in the country. Since 2002, the U.N. agency has helped more than 900,000 Afghans return home from Iran, but the number has dropped off and next year just 20,000 people are expected to be voluntarily repatriated, a fraction compared with previous years. (Reporting by Jessica Donati; additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by Robert Birsel)