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TAJIKISTAN: Afghan refugees told to leave Dushanbe

DUSHANBE, 23 May (IRIN) - Afghan refugees living in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, have been ordered to leave the city by 31 July and move to outlying districts, where they will be given temporary residency. The controversial order follows a resolution adopted by the mayor of Dushanbe on 26 July last year. According to the Committee of Afghan Refugees (CAR), up to 4,000 Afghans are living in Dushanbe.

However, Tajik authorities claim the refugees number as many as 12,000 to 16,000, most of whom do not satisfy legal entry requirements. The majority of the refugees have been long settled in the capital, the Afghan refugee body maintains. They are former senior representatives of previous Afghan governments and heads of local authorities, who were educated in the former Soviet Union.

Many have purchased apartments or own large commercial shops in Dushanbe. A large number, the committee claims, are representatives of the Afghan intelligentsia, including researchers and writers who have been integrated into Tajikistan's scientific and cultural life.

However, it is a third sector of the population - refugees representing minority groups - who have prompted authorities to toughen their stance. The government has expressed concerns that many of the refugees do not satisfy legal entry requirements, and some are involved in drug smuggling and illegal business. The resolution has sparked controversy, particularly among the Afghan refugee population.

Several appeals to the Tajik authorities have failed, and now the CAR has sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to all international organisations in Dushanbe. CAR Chairman Muhammad Aziz told IRIN that the refugees were not prepared or willing to move to rural areas.

Such a move would also antagonise Tajik farmers, who faced insurmountable problems as a result of the drought and with seeds and water a scarcity. The districts allocated to temporarily house the refugees were reportedly ill-prepared to accept such a large population influx.

UNHCR head in Tajikistan Taslimur Rahman told IRIN that the order represented a direct violation of the refugees' rights of residency, work, and education. In early May, UNHCR sent a note to the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressing serious concern over the decision of Dushanbe authorities to move the Afghan refugees.

"We were assured that this law applied only to the newly arrived refugees, but, when I familiarised myself with the document, I came to the conclusion that it applies absolutely to all the refugees," including those who were long time residents, Taslimur Rahman said.

A recent meeting at the mayor's office decided that a gradual move of refugees would be made to those districts which demonstrated the necessary conditions for acceptance of the communities. However, none of the allocated districts indicated an ability to accept up to 4,000 people simultaneously.

They could only cope with up to 200 people at one time. Accommodation had not yet been earmarked and local authorities had no funds to facilitate such a move. The deputy mayor of Dushanbe, Khodoiqul Hamroqulov, told IRIN that the decision was in keeping with a resolution adopted last year by the Tajik government.

Many of the refugees had not sought medical attention and could be carriers of infectious diseases, posing a threat to the local population, Hamroqulov said. Since their arrival, the rate of crime in the city had increased, and there was simply no room in Dushanbe to house them, he said.

The military and strategic aspects of the issue must be also taken into consideration, the deputy mayor maintained, especially as many of the refugee men had contacts with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. Anvar Boboyev, an official of the National Migration Service of Tajikistan, told IRIN that those refugees living in Dushanbe for a long period, and who owned houses and were settled, would be considered separately.

Meanwhile, many of the Afghan families are making preparations to leave their homes in Dushanbe. Some are resorting to more desperate measures - getting married to gain citizenship or buying a passport on the black market. International organisations, however, are hoping that some form of constructive dialogue with the refugees and the Tajik authorities will resolve the issue.

Extra items and links

Special 'Afghanistan - Humanitarian Crisis' web page at the UN

UNHCR Afghanistan humanitarian update

The ICRC in Afghanistan

Assistance for Afghanistan Weekly Update

The News: Jang - Malaria spread in NWFP with influx of Afghan refugees: paper, 3 Apr 2001

Reuters - Afghan Life Gets Tougher As Taliban Hold Firm, 03 Apr 2001

The News: Jang - Deplorable conditions at Afghan refugee camp: UNHCR, 3 Apr 2001 - News and Analysis from Central Asia and the Caucasus

The Central Asia Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR)

Institute for War & Peace Reporting - Central Asia

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