Iran has been one of the world’s leading refugee hosts for over forty years. In August 2021, following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and the subsequent deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation, many Afghans fled to Iran. UNHCR rapidly scaled up its operation in Iran to respond to the large number of new arrivals and their urgent needs for assistance.
Within the framework of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), UNHCR supports the Government of Iran in implementing inclusive refugee policies. The SSAR also facilitates coordinated protection approaches among partners, consensus-building on international protection priorities, and dialogue and partnerships in support of the Afghan refugee situation.
UNHCR supports the efforts of the Ministry of Health to include refugees in the national health care system. Free primary health care, including vaccinations, essential medicines and maternal and child health services are available to all, regardless of their documentation status. Refugees also have access to universal public health insurance to cover secondary and tertiary health care, on par with nationals. In 2022, UNHCR covers the insurance premium for up to 120,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, while others could enroll by paying the premium themselves.
All children in Iran have access to primary and secondary education regardless of their documentation status. Refugee, undocumented and other foreign children study side by side with Iranian school children, while following the same national curriculum. Higher education can be accessed by Afghans and Iraqis. In 2016, the Government of Iran removed ‘refugee-specific’ fees, ensuring primary and secondary education is affordable to all. UNHCR supports the government in constructing schools, literacy training to refugees, and scholarships for tertiary education.
UNHCR implements a diverse portfolio of livelihoods interventions for refugees. These projects include certified technical and vocational training and other income generating projects. Supporting refugees to access livelihoods opportunities can prepare them to become more self-sufficient and better able to meet the basic needs of their families. Refugees can thus also increase their economic potential, enabling them to contribute to their host community and one day, their home country, when conditions become conducive for returns.
By the end of May, UNHCR facilitated the repatriation of 124 returnees to Afghanistan and one returnee to Iraq. This represents a decrease compared to the 635 returns facilitated in the same period in 2021. Voluntary repatriation declined by 80% compared to the same period in 2021. This decrease is due to the instability and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
While in 2021 UNHCR received no quota for resettlement of Afghan refugees, in 2022 it is working with resettlement partners and the Government of Iran to resettle 3,000 refugees, given the increasing protection needs of refugees in Iran combined with the security situation in Afghanistan.