Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi (Araghchi) said on May 11 that Iran does not intend to deport Afghan refugees but that those who have “caused problems for the Afghan people” should “bear responsibility.”
Explicitly warning European countries, he reiterated, "The issue is that those who have caused problems for Afghans should fulfill their responsibility. Our audience is not Afghanistan and Afghans. Our audiences are Westerners and Europeans. They should fulfill their responsibility toward Afghanistan and help them solve their problems," Araqchi said in an interview aired by the monopolized state-run TV.
"We have no problem with the presence of Afghan refugees in Iran. However, it cannot happen that Westerners impose sanctions and economic pressure on us and forget their own responsibilities in this respect," he said.
Despite Araqchi's claims, the great majority of Afghans play an important role in Iran's economy, sometimes taking difficult jobs that Iranians shy away from. Iran has also conducted refugee expulsion back to Afghanistan.
Earlier on May 10, in an interview with official news agency IRNA, Araqchi had said that Western countries have caused many problems for the Afghan people and should fulfill their duties in helping Afghan refugees.
"European governments should pay their share for hosting refugees, be it through helping them financially or granting them asylum,” he said.
In another interview with the local Channel 2 on May 8, he had explicitly announced that Iran may order Afghan refugees to leave the country.
Two days later, he was forced to downplay his remarks in another interview with IRNA.
"The issue of the expulsion or return of Afghan refugees is not at all on the agenda of the government of Iran, but considering new options is a separate matter," IRNA cited him as saying.
"More than 3 million Afghans are living in Iran, with 2 million having been employed," Araqchi told IRNA, maintaining, "Afghan refugees cost Iran 3 billion to 5 billion euros (approximately $3.37 billion to $5.61 billion) every year."
He also claimed, "About 468,000 Afghan students are being educated in Iran’s government schools, and each student costs us 600 euros a year."
Referring to U.S. sanctions on Iran, Araqchi said that the issue of Afghan refugees living in Iran and the related costs has existed for many years, but under the present circumstances with "cruel and illegal" sanctions imposed on Iran and the U.S. government trying to curtail the financial resources of Iran, the demands on the Iranian nation are gaining "new dimensions."
Furthermore, he said that since Europeans are responsible for many of the Afghans' problems, they should either bear their share of costs for Afghan refugees living in Iran or accept them in their countries.
Araqchi's comments triggered a barrage of criticism on social media and from local news outlets.
Veteran legislator and member of the Commission for National Security and Foreign Policy of the Iranian Parliament Alauddin Boroujerdi endorsed Araqchi's remarks as "true" but criticized the way they had been “presented and circulated.”
Boroujerdi said that, in a telephone conversation with members of the commission, Araqchi had expanded on his controversial comments.
"Instead of bearing the costs [of Afghan refugees living in Iran], Europe is supporting the sanctions," Boroujerdi quoted Araqchi as saying. "The Europeans' position on Iran hosting refugees and combating the flow of narcotics to Europe is absolutely unacceptable."
Moreover, Boroujerdi complained that while Europe pays 6 billion euros (roughly $6.8 billion) a year to Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees, it has not paid “a penny” for Afghan refugees living in Iran.
Araqchi's comments sparked considerable reactions in Afghanistan. The spokesman of the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Sebghat Ahmadi, told RFE/RL’s Afghan Service that “the questions of Afghan refugees and Washington’s sanctions are two separate issues, and based on international conventions, the issue of refugees should not be mixed with political motivations."
Afghan political analyst Ahmad Saeedi told Tolo News website, "Iran wants to tell the European Union that if you do not want to take practical steps against the U.S. sanctions on Iran, we are compelled to open a flood of refugees and drugs to Europe."