Iran to slow down expulsion of Afghans

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran has agreed to slow down a drive to expel illegal Afghan residents after its speed prompted Kabul to sack two Afghan cabinet ministers, Iranian state media reported on Monday. Iranian deputy foreign minister Mahdi Safari, visiting Afghanistan, said President Mahmud Ahmadinejad “has agreed to repatriate Afghans in a gradual and orderly way, in line with the existing capabilities in Afghanistan.”

Iran says it has expelled around 85,000 illegal Afghan citizens since April 21 in one of the country’s most intensive drives to return Afghans home over the past decade.

Afghans without proper employment papers are estimated to form half of the two million Afghans, mostly Shiite Hazara or Sunni Persian-speaking Tajiks, who fled the conflict at home and still live in the Islamic republic.

Safari held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and both sides resolved that an Afghan delegation should visit Tehran to examine the methods used to repatriate illegal Afghan residents.

State television added that Ahmadinejad would visit Afghanistan during the third week of June.

Iran wants all of its Afghan refugees to return home in the coming years, and Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi has said Tehran wants one million Afghans to be repatriated by next March.

It says the “foreign citizens organizing plan” was not targeting those Afghans who were legally registered, and even those expelled have the right to return.

But Tehran’s swiftness in carrying out the plan has sparked anger in Kabul, prompting parliament to vote for the sacking of both Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta and Refugee Affairs Minister Akbar Akbar.

Iran has often expressed its exasperation that it should shoulder the burden of housing those displaced, and the government wants all Afghans in Iran who do not have Iranian passports to return home by 2010.

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