European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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© EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash
© European Union/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

After more than three decades of protracted displacement, Iran hosts almost one million documented and an estimated two million undocumented Afghans refugees. Many, particularly those who do not hold the Amayesh registration card, face constraints and limitations on access to livelihoods, healthcare, and other essential services. It is estimated that some 2000 Afghans continue to arrive every day in Iran, but there has been no generalised refugee status determination (RSD) in the country since 2001. 

What are the needs?

The majority of refugees reside in the provinces of Tehran (33%), Khorasan Razavi (16%), Esfahan (13%), and Kerman (8%), with the rest dispersed in other provinces. While 97% live in urban areas, less than 3% are hosted in the 18 Afghan refugee settlements run by the Iranian government’s Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA). However, Iran, recently committed to include all registered Afghan refugees in the national health insurance scheme on the same basis as its own citizens, enabling more than 145 000 refugees to be enrolled by the end of 2016.

Undocumented Afghans are generally more vulnerable because they have not been eligible for most of the assistance provided. However, the Supreme Leader’s decree in May 2015 allowed all children in Iran, regardless of their legal status, to access formal education. Since then, at least 350 000 Afghan and Iraqi refugee children, including some 77 000 undocumented Afghan boys and girls, have been enrolled in schools, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). There are still some financial barriers to access, as undocumented children need to obtain a blue card to enroll, in addition to cultural impediments. Efforts have also been made to allow for less restrictive residence requirements with the "alternative stay arrangement" programme targeting refugees and changing their status into economic migrants with work permits. For undocumented Afghans, a "comprehensive regularisation plan" has been drawn up to provide them with legal status and work permits, and to identify them through a headcount.

How are we helping?

In 2017, the EU has allocated almost €10 million to deliver essential assistance to Afghan refugees in Iran, including support for the integration of out-of-school Afghan children into the Iranian education system, made possible since the 2015 decree. The EU also remains committed to continuing to provide humanitarian assistance in support of health care, shelter, food security and protection for the most vulnerable refugees.

Channelled through three INGOs and two UN agencies working in the country, EU funding provides livelihood support (including vocational training), access to emergency education, healthcare, water and sanitation, voluntary repatriation, protection, and legal counselling to vulnerable Afghan refugees. A shift in focus towards undocumented Afghans – usually the most vulnerable – has been possible over the last two years, after the 2015 decree. Prior to this, European Commission partners working with Afghan refugees concentrated their assistance mainly on vulnerable documented refugees

Support also covers provision of cash to the most vulnerable refugees to allow them to pay the premium for the government-run universal public health insurance (UPHI) scheme, which enables documented Afghans to access a comprehensive health insurance package which already exists for Iranian nationals.

The EU has been funding humanitarian projects targeting Afghan refugees in Iran since 1997, providing a total of almost €46 million in humanitarian support for Afghan refugees and responding to natural disasters. In the past, the EU also provided humanitarian help in the relief efforts after the 1997, 2002 and 2003 earthquakes. In April 2016, the EU and Iran agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation in support of better prevention, detection and response to natural disasters.

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