Secretary general, Jan Egeland, talks to Afghan refugees in Bardsir settlement in Kerman, Iran. Photo: Laila Matar/NRC

Humanitarian needs in Iran rise as 300,000 Afghans arrive since Taliban takeover

Published 10. Nov 2021
The Norwegian Refugee Council calls for more funding and responsibility sharing, as 4,000 to 5,000 Afghans flee across the border to Iran daily.

“Thousands of exhausted women, children and men are crossing from Afghanistan into Iran every day in search of safety. Iran cannot be expected to host so many Afghans with so little support from the international community. There must be an immediate scale up of aid both inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries like Iran, before the deadly winter cold,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Secretary General Jan Egeland on a visit to Iran this week.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 Afghans are fleeing into Iran each day via informal border crossings, according to locally reported figures. NRC is on the ground in Iran supporting those Afghans, in addition to hundreds of thousands of others who have been sheltering in the country for much longer – some for decades. 

While a fraction of people have returned to Afghanistan, the numbers arriving continue to rise. This trend may increase as the Afghan winter arrives and harsh below zero temperatures hit. In addition, the country’s economy is in freefall and the humanitarian crisis is intensifying. 

“We’ve heard heartbreaking stories from families that have recently arrived in Iran. One refugee said they were targeted for being Shi’a Muslim, their few remaining possessions were taken, their house burned, and they had to flee multiple times within Afghanistan before reaching Iran. They were told that their daughters would be married off to fighters as soon as they reach the age of 10,” said Egeland. 

The United Nations refugee agency’s appeal to support Afghans fleeing to neighbouring countries calls for nearly 300 million US dollars to help up to 515,000 people that may flee before the end of the year. The appeal is only 32 per cent funded so far. About 136 million US dollars of the total appeal funding is needed to support Afghans in Iran. 

“We commend Iran for welcoming and hosting millions of displaced Afghans for the past four decades. But now the international community must step up to support Afghanistan’s neighbours and share the responsibility to help them to continue welcoming refugees. Afghans represent one of the world’s largest refugee caseloads. Now return conditions are set to become ever more elusive.”

While a large number of Afghan refugees are not moving towards Europe yet, all rich nations should both ramp up aid and keep their borders open to those fleeing conflict and persecution. European nations, including Poland, must stop deporting Afghan asylum seekers and review all failed applications in light of the crisis. 


Facts and figures 

  • It is estimated that at least 300,000 Afghans have entered Iran since the takeover of government by the Taliban. It may be expected that hundreds of thousands will continue to arrive over the winter.  
  • Nearly 5 million Afghans remain displaced outside of the country. Of these, 90 per cent are hosted by the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan.
  • Some 3.6 million Afghans reside in Iran, although only 780,000 are recognised as refugees.
  • Iran would be the second largest refugee hosting country in the world after Turkey, if all Afghans were recognised as refugees. 
  • Iran is among the most Covid-affected countries in the region. Close to 6 million people have been infected, while the number of reported associated deaths is over 126,000. Iran has been vaccinating Afghan refugees, including those undocumented. 
  • Afghan children in Iran, regardless of the legal status of their parents, can enrol in public schools together with Iranian children. This is an example of one of the most inclusive refugee policies globally.
  • The UN Refugee Agency has called for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected. NRC supports this call.
  • Over half of Afghanistan’s population are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations


Note to editors:

  • Free video b-roll of Secretary General Jan Egeland’s visit to Iran is available to download for free use here.
  • Free photos of Afghans in Iran, and Secretary General Jan Egeland’s visit to Iran, are available to download for free use here.

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