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UN chief, UNHCR praise Iran for hosting Afghan refugees

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrives to deliver a speech during the Refugee Summit Islamabad to mark 40 years of hosting Afghan refugee in Islamabad on February 17, 2020. (Photo by AFP) / AFP / Aamir QURESHI

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi have praised Iran and Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees despite receiving minimal support from the international community.

Guterres and Grandi  made the remarks on Monday, addressing a two-day Refugee Summit in Islamabad, entitled "40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees".

They commended the Islamic Republic of Iran for taking various initiatives to boost the quality of life for Afghan refugees with its own resources despite economic pressures.

"Afghans now constitute the largest group of arrivals in Europe, exceeding for the first time the arrivals from Syria," Guterres said, expressing regret that returns to Afghanistan have hit a historical low.

"Afghanistan and its people cannot be abandoned. Now is the time for the international community to act and to deliver," he said.

Grandi also praised the hospitality of Iran and Pakistan, saying “This is what we are here to mark today: the compassion, the hospitality, the solidarity of the people of the host countries.”

Iran spends $8 billion on Afghan migrants every year in various sectors, and has repeatedly complained that the countries which caused the displacement of Afghans must accept responsibility and help cover the costs.

Last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran cannot afford the heavy costs of addressing the problem of refugees, saying the US sanctions have disabled Iran from paying billions of dollars in expenses necessary for such plans.

The president threatened parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Iran will have to halt cooperation in preventing the influx of refugees if the other parties stand idle and only seek to benefit from the nuclear agreement.

According to officials, some 500,000 foreign students enrolled in around 28,000 schools across the country last school year, most of whom are Afghan immigrants.

Four decades of war and conflict have produced more than 2.6 million Afghan registered refugees, with 1.4 million living in Pakistan, and over 950,000 living in Iran as of 2016, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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