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UN Refugee Chief Says Displaced Afghans 'Forgotten'

Afghan migrants take part in a protest demanding better living conditions and the removal of the director of the hospitality center, near the village of Malakasa, north of Athens, on June 8.

The UN refugee chief has said displaced Afghans had already been "forgotten" by the international community before they began arriving in Europe in large numbers last year.

On a visit to Iran on June 18, Filippo Grandia said his first regional tour as the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees was focused on Afghan refugees.

"Afghan refugees unfortunately have been forgotten by the international community," Grandi said at a joint press conference in Tehran with Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari.

"It is only when they started arriving in Europe together with many other refugees that the international community suddenly remembered."

According to the UN, there are 950,000 registered Afghan citizens living in Iran. However, Iran's Interior Ministry estimates that the total number of Afghans in Iran is around 3 million.

Grandi urged the international community to increase their support for Tehran's refugee protection programs because "unless we help refugees" more they will look elsewhere.

"We have seen this happening last year with hundreds of thousands of Afghans moving toward Europe," he said.

Grandi called on the world community to help stabilize Afghanistan so more refugees choose to return since "voluntary repatriation has gone down to very few numbers."

He called the services Iran offers refugees "of very high quality compared to what we see in most countries in the world."

Last year, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a decree allowing all Afghan children to be allowed into schools in the Islamic republic.

It was "one of the most important gestures that any country has expressed for refugees anywhere in the world in the past few years," Grandi said.

Zolfaghari told reporters that Iran has borne great costs to prevent illegal immigration to other countries, especially to Europe.

"In the past year, we have repatriated 753,000 people who had entered Iran illegally to their home countries and paid great costs in this regard," he said.

The solution to the refugee crisis is "to eradicate insecurity and poverty" in those countries, he added.

Based on reporting by AFP