Humanitarian and political background
Over the past three decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has hosted one of the largest refugee populations in the world.
Afghans began to seek refuge in Iran after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, migration to the country has continued unabated. The effects of war, insecurity, unemployment and inflation in Afghanistan drive its civilians across the border. Although hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan, an estimated 3.6 million Afghans remain in Iran.
Minimal international support
Iran is a middle-income country, and the Human Development Index ranks Iran as a relatively high-developed nation. However, an estimated 22% of registered Afghan refugees live below the poverty line, in formal refugee camps, rural areas and cities.
The poverty-stricken trend is becoming more drastic as hyperinflation persists, alongside international economic sanctions and subsidy repeals. Iran receives minimal financial support for its role as a host country to Afghan refugees, and media interest is negligible.
Three generations of refugees
We have to help give them hope for the future in Afghanistan.
Jan Egeland, NRC Secretary General
The situation in Afghanistan has led to one of the largest exoduses in modern history, a painful and drawn-out journey to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. Most will never see the homes they left behind again.
To be born an Afghan refugee in Iran instils a marginalised identity. It blocks many opportunities that children should have – school, athletics, arts. Afghan children's hope to see their home country dwindles as they mature and realise the dangers of returning. Accessing land, jobs, and services like proper medical care remains the biggest barrier for Afghans. Sometimes they experience displacement a second time, forced to move in search of basic necessities like clean water.
People we helped in Iran in 2015
NRC in Iran
Through our programme in Iran, we help Afghan refugees cope with the struggles of living in long-term displacement. We support them as they improve their living conditions, and we work to prevent secondary displacement.
Our teams want to preserve the asylum space for Afghans in Iran, to guarantee their access to basic services and reinforce their coping strategies. We support UNHCR’s Regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) and advocate for better coordination in the humanitarian response.
NRC has offices located in Tehran and Kerman, and undertakes further activities in the provinces of Semnan, Qom and Alborz.
The longevity of the crisis in Afghanistan impacts the way we support Afghan refugees in Iran. Our assistance guides Afghans as they overcome long-term obstacles. Our Iran programme collaborates with our Afghanistan and Pakistan operations to close gaps in the overall regional response.
The children of Dasht-e Zahmatkeshan village in Kerman province, Iran, are charmed and curious by the aerial camera capturing their school, playground, and NRC-funded cultural centre.
Following the recent decree issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran, all Afghan refugee children – document and undocumented – can go to school, regardless of their legal status. Education and vocational training is vital to their future, whether they remain in Iran or choose to return to Afghanistan. Socialising allows them to overcome the trauma of growing up as a refugee.
Our education teams:
- Offer literacy and numeracy courses.
- Provide free transportation to and from school, for students and teachers.
- Offer extracurricular activities for children, such as LEGO and art classes.
- Refurbish schools and build temporary classrooms, in cooperation with our shelter teams.
- Give certified vocational training for Afghan refugee youth in English, accounting, basic and advanced computer skills, digital photography and photo editing, videography, sewing, architecture, occupational health and safety training.
Our food security teams address the basic food needs of Afghan refugee families in four provinces.
Our food security activities:
- Offer training in nutrition and home economics, to encourage food choices that can help households save money.
- Distribute a rechargeable debit card to purchase food and hygiene products at a chain of stores in different locations.
Information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA)
Our ICLA teams empower Afghan refugees and helping them navigate the legal intricacies that are part of life as a refugee.
Our ICLA activities:
- Give information and counselling on legal mechanisms, and how Afghans can exercise their rights in Iran, particularly in terms of legal stay, legal status and civil documentation.
- Improve access to legal assistance by proactively reaching out to refugees.
- Assist Afghans who plan to repatriate to Afghanistan, whether to settle outstanding legal issues in Iran or to rightfully reclaim their land in Afghanistan. This is part of NRC’s cross-border response for Afghanistan.
We address the serious housing deficiencies for Afghan refugees in camps as well as urban and rural areas. We want Afghans to live in safe and suitable conditions.
Our shelter teams:
- Enhance earthquake safety standards and preparations in case of an emergency.
- Build playgrounds, child-friendly spaces and cultural centres, creating informal learning spaces for children.
- Construct and upgrade houses and latrines, together with our WASH teams.
- Rehabilitate houses and schools that have suffered structural damage.
- Distribute non-food items (NFI) and winter kits, including shelter reparation materials.
- Give training on basic construction practices and energy saving techniques.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
Our WASH teams work to make sure that Afghan refugees in the country are able to drink potable water and practice proper sanitation and hygiene routines.
Our WASH teams:
- Distribute hygiene kits and train refugees on good hygiene.
- Construct and upgrade latrines in camps and schools, together with our shelter teams.
- Provide semi-public shower-latrine units in remote, deprived areas with high concentrations of refugees.
- Collect and drain standing water in refugee communities to improve sanitation conditions.
- Maintain sewage treatment plants.
“I can write it myself. It makes me feel really good”
In Iran, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) works in collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to respond to the education and protection needs of Afghan refugees.
Education: The path to a brighter tomorrow
On 21 September, art works made by Afghan refugee children during the “Peace Education through Art” workshop in Rafsanjan Settlement in Kerman were presented at an exhibition in Tehran.