Read caption Photo: Marjan Jesmi/NRC

NRC in Iran

For more than 40 years, Iran has provided a sanctuary to Afghan refugees. Many have grown up in exile. Iran is the only home they have ever known.

The Government of Iran estimates that in total there are around 3 to 3.5 million displaced Afghans in Iran including those who are undocumented.


A total of


people in need received our assistance in 2019.

Humanitarian overview

For the past 40 years, Iran has hosted one of the largest displaced populations. Nearly one million Afghans, considered to be de facto refugees, hold renewable registration (Amayesh) cards; around 450,000 hold valid Iranian visas and Afghan passports, and about 1.5 to 2 million are undocumented. Iran’s recent progressive policies grant access to universal public healthcare to Amayesh cardholders and allow access to public schools to undocumented Afghan children.

Despite the inclusive Iranian policies and support from the international community, Afghans still face challenges finding and retaining reliable income. This affects their ability to secure housing, keep children in school, and have diverse diets, and could adversely impact their ability to renew documentation of legal status on time.

The re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran in 2018 and the Covid-19 pandemic have further pressured Iran’s economy, increasing challenges faced by all Afghans residing in Iran.

Iran is also prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods which can lead to displacement and destruction.


People we helped in Iran in 2019

people benefited from our education programme
people benefited from our food security programme
people benefited from our shelter programme
people benefited from our ICLA programme
people benefited from our WASH programme

NRC's operation

Since 2012, NRC Iran has been assisting displaced Afghans in Iran as well as their Iranian host communities. We work to improve protection and access to basic humanitarian services across nine provinces, and coordinate closely with NRC operations in Afghanistan.

Since April 2019, we have expanded operations to provide assistance to those affected by floods and since early 2020 we have significantly expanded our programme to support the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Covid-19 response

NRC, at the organisational level, has prioritised: (1) maintaining programme activities; (2) adapting programme activity where needed; and (3) scaling up Covid-19 response planning.

On February 2020, Iran was one of the first countries hit by Covid-19 pandemic after China. NRC Iran rapidly adapted its programming in order to contribute to reducing the spread of the virus through adequate or improved hygiene practices.

Our efforts have been focused on providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions which include rehabilitation or establishing appropriate facilities in schools – for example critically needed hand washing stations. Additionally, we provide cleaning kits for schools and urban health centres.

Moreover, we have scaled up our cash assistance to vulnerable Afghans in order to support them while maintaining quarantine when required to prevent further spread of the virus.

NRC Iran is planning to further expand activities targeting the longer-term socio-economic impact of the virus. This includes providing increased or diversified livelihood opportunities to affected households. Specific attention is also being paid to children who are currently at home and may be at risk of adopting negative coping mechanisms, such as child labour, in order to supplement the family income; or where the costs of continued education (such as transportation or stationery) are too prohibitive for the family and children are at risk of dropping out of school.

Despite the Covid-19 outbreak, the challenges and the adjustment required for programme implementation, NRC Iran has reached 28,103 beneficiaries in the first 2020 quarter (14,274 males and 13,829 females) through the following interventions:

Water, sanitation and hygiene promotion (WASH): 9,706 males / 8,206 females – Activities include improvement of latrines and water points in schools, provision of hygiene kits as a preventive measure against Covid-19 and hygiene kits to families affected by floods.

Education: 2,675 males / 3,522 females – Activities include equipment for classrooms, provision of stationery kits to students, and life skills training for parents. Activities benefited both Afghan and Iranian children.

Infrastructure: 2,899 males /2,787 females – Activities include rehabilitation and construction of classrooms and other education and support spaces in schools which benefit both Afghan and Iranian children.

Livelihoods and food security: 1,804 males / 2,053 females – Activities include multi-purpose cash (MPC) assistance which has been distributed among displaced Afghans and to Iranians.

Protection, information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA): 1,804 males / 2,053 females – Activities include provision of counselling on access to essential services, residency, and legal identity to vulnerable displaced Afghans as well as individual protection assistance (cash assistance) for the most vulnerable.


NRC EducationEducation

In 2015, the Supreme Leader issued a decree through which all Afghan children are given access to education irrespective of their legal status in Iran. However, socio-economic and cultural barriers to the implementation of this decree remain. Our team offers:

  • accelerated education programmes, with our partner the Literacy Movement Organization, through literacy and numeracy courses for out-of-school children to help them bridge the gap and enter school at the appropriate level
  • school readiness programmes for children who have never been to school
  • life skill courses for school students, parents, and teachers with the Ministry of Education
  • support to the formal education system by building and rehabilitating schools and classrooms, including water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and providing essential education materials including school equipment and stationery
  • certified soft skills training for youth to complement vocational training


NRC Information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA)Information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA)

Our ICLA team supports Iran’s displaced Afghan population in exercising their rights and making informed decisions. Our experts provide:

  • information and counselling to improve access to essential services and maintaining legal status in Iran
  • unconditional cash assistance to the most vulnerable to help them maintain legal residence, identity and civil documentation, as well as access to essential services. Cash assistance is always complemented with information which helps Afghans decide on how to use it and how to address their most pressing protection concerns
  • reliable information to Afghans considering a return to Afghanistan, on how to access identity and civil documentation and available services upon return, so that they can make informed decisions


NRC Livelihoods and food securityLivelihoods and food security

Our livelihoods and food security team explores ways to improve refugee and displaced families’ livelihoods and to foster their social and economic status in Iran. We also provide emergency cash assistance to people affected by natural disasters so they can meet their most pressing needs. Our specialists:

  • distribute multi-purpose cash through bank cards to cover basic household needs
  • provide business grants and/or toolkits for eligible small business owners to initiate and/or expand their activities
  • collaborate with our education team to offer certified vocational and transferrable skills training including tailoring, construction, welding, electricity, hairdressing, plumbing and computer use
  • establish income generating workshops


NRC Shelter and settlementsShelter and settlements

Our shelter team works towards providing displaced Afghans and those affected by emergencies with safe and suitable living conditions and addresses housing deficiencies in settlements, urban, peri-urban and rural areas. Our team:

  • constructs/rehabilitates shelters and public infrastructure, including playgrounds, power supply networks, sport courts etc.
  • supports construction and rehabilitation of schools to provide safe educational spaces
  • constructs community centres designed to serve as hubs delivering services to Afghan and host communities
  • provides training about basic construction practices and energy-saving techniques
  • supports our emergency response team in the case of an emergency notably through the provision of non-food items


NRC Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) promotion

It is crucial that displaced Afghans in Iran as well as those affected by emergencies have access to potable water and adequate sanitation facilities. To ensure this, our WASH team:

  • collaborates with our shelter team to construct and upgrade latrines, showers and hand washing facilities in public spaces such as settlements and schools, as well as in refugees’ shelters
  • provides and maintains sewage treatment plants
  • offers hygiene promotion training, for students and adults
  • distributes hygiene kits to students and households, to reinforce training and ensure behaviour change
  • improves access to safe and drinkable water for refugees through provision of water purifiers or water trucking
  • provides WASH infrastructure including water reservoirs and surface-water collection systems
  • supports our emergency response team in the case of an emergency including the floods in March/April 2019 by distributing hygiene kits as well as dignity kits for women and girls, and installing new latrines for flood-affected schools


NRC Iran is grateful for the generous support from our donors
  • Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA)
  • German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO)
  • Australian Government's Direct Aid Program (DAP)
  • The European Union
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
  • Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA)
  • Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency

About NRC in Iran

International staff
Areas of operation
Alborz, Hormozgan, Kerman, Khouzestan, Lorestan, Qom, Razavi Khorasan, Semnan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Tehran provinces
Budget 2019
USD 10 million
National staff


Country Director

Filip Lozinski