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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

US concerned at Iran's expulsion of Afghan refugees

Tue May 22, 4:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Tuesday voiced concern over Iran's large-scale deportations of Afghans living illegally in the country saying the flood of returning refugees was becoming a burden.

"The United States is concerned that a large influx of Afghan migrants is increasing the need for humanitarian assistance in western Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. The United Nations said Monday that more than 70,000 Afghans who were in Iran illegally have been expelled in the past month.

Tehran has said it wanted one million Afghans repatriated by next March. The 70,000 who have been sent back started returning from April 21.

Washington supported calls from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Kabul to ensure "that Afghans living and working illegally in Iran are deported in a gradual, orderly and humane manner," McCormack said.

Afghanistan has asked Iran to halt the returns, saying it does not have the capacity to accommodate a large number of people at once.

According to the UN more than one million out of the two million Afghans living in Iran were there illegally, McCormack said.

Registered Afghan refugees living in Iran were not being targeted for deportation however, he added.