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Iran forcibly deporting Afghans, rights group says

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Iran is forcefully deporting Afghans by the thousands in violation of its international obligation to protect refugees, a rights group said Wednesday in a report.

The Human Rights Watch report included stories of fathers deported without being given a chance to tell the families they leave behind. It said a 12-year old boy was left without money at the border, forced to beg for bus fare to Afghanistan.

Millions of Afghans fled to Iran and Pakistan in the 1980s to flee a bloody anti-Communist insurgency. At the peak of the war, roughly 5 million refugees lived in Pakistan and nearly 4 million in Iran. Currently, Human Rights Watch estimates about 2 million Afghans still live in Iran as unregistered refugees — some having returned to Afghanistan only to come back once again to Iran driven back by lack of jobs and a deteriorating security situation in their homeland.

But Iran has refused to register many of them, said Faraz Sanei, Human Rights Watch researcher for Middle East and North Africa. Roughly another 840,000 Afghans live in Iran as registered refugees. Sanei said the report's authors spent more than a year on Afghanistan's western border with Iran interviewing refugees as they straggled across the border, some telling horrific tales of beating and abuse.

Families have often been broken up. Two teenage Afghan girls were arrested in the Iranian holy city of Qom, the report said. The reason: One of them was wearing pink sneakers. When their father and a fiancé of one of the girls came to help them, the police discovered they were Afghans and immediately deported all four of them. Their mother and three other children were left behind in Iran.

"The most serious concerns that we have are the many undocumented Afghans in Iran who, when they are deported, go through some very very serious abuses during the deportation process," Sanei told reporters in the Afghan capital.

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian government, which rarely comments on human rights reports. "As the Iranian government ratchets up the pressure on Afghans to leave, Afghanistan's deteriorating economic and security situation increases the dangers for returnees," he said. The report urged Iran to set up reception centers for unaccompanied children, provide greater assistance to deported Afghans, and end the abuses of Afghan refugees and migrants.

In New York, the U.N. General Assembly adopted by consensus its annual resolution on Afghanistan, which praised Iran and Pakistan for taking in refugees, and then said, without naming any country, that the United Nations "reiterates to host countries and the international community the obligations under international refugee law with respect to the protection of refugees, the principle of voluntary return and the right to seek asylum."

The assembly said it welcomed "the continued return of Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons, in a voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable manner." Violence continues in Afghanistan. Also on Wednesday, a powerful explosion killed 3 people at a restaurant in the southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the provincial governor. The bomb went off late Wednesday inside the restaurant, also injuring another 14 people, he said.

No one took immediate responsibility for the explosion but blame is certain to fall on the Taliban. Faisal said the investigation was continuing and it wasn't immediately clear whether it was a suicide bomber or whether a timed devise was used.

Southern Afghanistan has been the site of some of the heaviest fighting in the protracted war against a stubborn Taliban insurgency. Also on Wednesday, the district police chief of Marjah in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province was ambushed and killed. His bodyguard was wounded, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The U.N. General Assembly resolution expressed alarm about ongoing eruptions of violence in Afghanistan and blamed outlaw and terrorist groups for "the significant majority of civilian casualties."

AP correspondent Mir Wais in Kandahar and and Peter Spielmann at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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