Afghan refugees in Iran | Photo: Picture Alliance / Ton Koene
Afghan refugees in Iran | Photo: Picture Alliance / Ton Koene

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister, has warned of a "huge wave of refugees" in case of an escalation of the conflict between the United States and Iran about uranium enrichment. The Islamic Republic of Iran is home to roughly one third of the 2.7 million Afghan refugees worldwide.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has warned of a massive new influx of refugees in the event of an intensification of the conflict between Iran and the United States.

"If the situation between Washington and Tehran continues to escalate, there is a danger that three million Afghans living in the country will leave Iran," Asselborn told the Sunday edition of the German Die Welt newspaper.

Most of them would not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation, the minister added. Instead, they would flee to Turkey and from there try to reach Europe.

"There is a risk of a huge wave of refugees, which presents Europe with great challenges," Asselborn said. He accused US President Donald Trump of having made a "total misstep" by withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran last year.

In fact, the US has broken the contract, he said. The 2015 agreement had given more security to Europe and the world, according to Asselborn. At the same time he called on Iran not to go ahead with violating a central provision of the deal, as Iran has announced.

2.7 million Afghan refugees

Iran has threatened to enrich uranium beyond the levels and quantities agreed in the deal. Highly enriched uranium can be used as material for nuclear weapons. After years of tough negotiations, the five permanent UN security council members, Germany and Iran agreed in Vienna in 2015 to an agreement that limited Tehran's ambitions as a nuclear power.

The deal put the Iranian nuclear industry under international scrutiny and promised the dismantling of Western economic sanctions on Iran in exchange. However, the US has reimposed tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic since it left the deal.

"So far, Iran has always adhered to the agreement, according to the international nuclear regulatory authority in Vienna," Asselborn told Die Welt.  "On the other hand, I can only warn the Iranians not to start enriching uranium beyond the permitted level this Sunday," he added.

According to a recent UNHCR report, 2.7 million Afghans have fled their country, the second-highest number worldwide behind Syria. Last year, almost nine out of ten of them were hosted by neighboring Pakistan and Iran. 

While close to one million registered refugees from Afghanistan currently live in Iran, the total number of Afghan refugees and migrants in Iran is more than three million, according to estimates. 

In Germany, the number of Afghan refugees grew to 126,000 by the end of 2018, with other Afghan refugee populations hosted in Austria (33,100), Sweden (28,200), France (18,500), Italy (16,900), Switzerland (12,300) and Australia (11,900).

In contrast, there are around 130,000 Iranian refugees and Iranians in refugee-like situations at the end of 2018, according to UNHCR.

With material from dpa


More articles