Refugees in Iran receive health and education services: UNHCR office

December 16, 2011
TEHRAN – The representative of the UNHCR office in Tehran says “refugees in Iran receive their basic needs such as health services and education.”

He made the remarks on the sidelines of a workshop arranged on Thursday to brief journalists on who is considered a “refugee” and what entails this term. The workshop was co-hosted by the UNHCR office in Tehran and Iran’s Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants' Affairs (BAFIA).

According to statistics, about 287,000 student refugees were studying in Iranian schools in the Iranian academic year (2010-2011).

The figure was expected to increase by about 10 to 15 percent in the current Iranian academic year (2011-2012).

Mohammad Tahavori, the BAFIA director, said refugee students enjoy the same educational services as Iranian students.

In addition, over the past three decades about 657,000 Afghan and Iraqi refugees have received education through classes organized by Iran’s “adult literacy movement”.

According to BAFIA, more than 7000 refugee students are also studying at Iranian universities.

94% of refugees are Afghan nationals

Iran has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.  

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees also flooded into Iran after the 1991 Persian Gulf War when the Saddam army launched bloody attacks against Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. It was at that time that Iran hosted about 5 million refugees, an unprecedented record in the modern history. 

Later, most Iraqis left Iran; however Afghans continued to stay after more than three decades.

Now there are varying figures about the number of refugees in Iran. The UNHCR office in Tehran put the number of legally registered refugees in Iran at about 900,000. BAFIA says the number changes constantly as some Afghan refugees leave Iran and some others enter the country.

Currently, more than 94 percent of refugees in Iran are Afghan nationals.

There is no figure about undocumented Afghan refugees in Iran.

BAFIA says there are 92 countries in the world that population of each of them is less than the number of refugees in Iran. 

200,000 foreign nationals are vaccinated annually 

Dr. Omidvarnia, the representative of the Iranian Health Ministry, elaborated on the services given to refugees such as vaccination, building health houses, and treating those refugees who need special care. 

“Every year at least 200,000 foreign nationals are vaccinated against diseases,” Omidvarnia told the workshop session.

UNHCR efforts in Iran

To lessen the refugee burden on Iran the UNHCR office in Tehran said it has provided life-saving equipment and medicine to refugees, built health centers and community schools and launched efforts to “absorb payments”.

On the efforts to highlight Iran’s services to hundreds of thousands of refugees, the UNHCR office chairman said his office is in “constant contact with embassies in Tehran and international organizations” to capture their attention to the services, especially educational services, provided to refugees by Iran.

For example, he said in his talks with UNHCR officials in Geneva he explains about Iran’s services to refugees.

He added these efforts “have resulted in increasing support to Iran” but the contributions made by the international community “is too small”.

There is a kind of disgruntlement about the decades-long stay of Afghan refugees in Iran. Many people complain that Afghans have robbed them of the opportunity for job. 
  
BAFIA director Tahavori also said, “It is through the return of refugees that the condition in Afghanistan will improve.” 

Tavahori also said in a meeting with Afghan and the UNHCR officials it was decided that a “time should be set” for refugees return their home.

He said this decision will be finalized soon.