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Afghanistan signs UN status of refugees convention

Afghanistan signs UN status of refugees convention

Afghanistan's recovery, supported by returnees like these in Kabul
Afghanistan has signed the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, a significant sign of recovery for a country that used to be one of the world's largest producers of displaced persons, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

In a press statement in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres welcomed Afghanistan's accession to the Convention and Protocol, which takes effect this week after several months of close collaboration between UNHCR and Afghan authorities.

"It is possible at times to forget the true meaning of the refugee Convention, but if anyone can understand its significance, it is the people of Afghanistan," said Mr. Guterres. "During the long, dark years of fighting and extremism, millions of Afghans had to flee their homeland to seek refuge elsewhere. It is testimony to the remarkable progress Afghanistan has made on the road to recovery that it is now able to join the Convention."

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention.

With the accession, Afghanistan enshrines in international law its long-standing tradition of asylum. Despite being embroiled in decades of war and civil conflict, Afghanistan kept its doors open to refugees – notably those from Central Asia, like the tens of thousands who fled Tajikistan's civil war in the early 1990s.

Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, more than 3.5 million Afghans have repatriated from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan in one of the largest operations in UNHCR's 54-year history. The refugee agency has also been working in Afghanistan to support the authorities' efforts to reintegrate the millions of newly-returned people.

Afghanistan is the 146th country to ratify either the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Iran – which has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the years – has also signed the Convention. UNHCR hopes that Pakistan, which has also generously hosted millions of Afghans, will soon join as well.

There are now just under one million Afghan refugees in Iran. A recent census showed that more than 3 million Afghans live in Pakistan, though not all of them are "of concern" to UNHCR. A significant number are expected to choose to repatriate, but it is also likely that some Afghans will want to remain in their countries of asylum, where some have been living for decades as well-integrated, productive members of society.