U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Iran
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||14 June 2006|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Iran , 14 June 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4496ad0d2.html [accessed 16 September 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Director-General of Iran's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) said in January 2006 that the country had deported 200,000 Afghans for illegal entry or presence during the last nine months of 2005. Iran only allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to screen deportees who had arrived before 2001 but Iran deported post-2001 arrivals, as well as refugees who repatriated and then returned, without screening. For the first time, Iranian security forces had the full refugee registration data base available to them at detention centers for prescreening deportees. Nonetheless, UNHCR found 130 refugees among those to whom it had access, down from 450 the year before, and prevented their removal. Iran limited UNHCR to one screening station at Dogharoun and resisted setting up another at Milak, for which the repatriation agreement between UNHCR, Iran, and Afghanistan called.
In January, UNHCR threatened to cut off aid for Afghan refugees, complaining that Iran was pressuring them to return by suspending education and medical services and revoking their residence permits. UNHCR also accused Iran of levying a punitive tax on refugees to force them to repatriate. Afghan media reports accused Iranian police of beating refugees and demanding bribes to extend residence permits. Iran denied the charges and UNHCR did not cut off aid.
Iran honored UNHCR's return advisory for Iraqi refugees, which held that conditions in Iraq were not conducive to mass returns. Although Afghans and Iraqis with prima facie status made up most of Iran's refugee population, the Government also reported hosting some 30,000 refugees of various nationalities (including Tajiks, Bosnians, Azeris, Eritreans, Somalis, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis), but did not allow UNHCR or nongovernmental organizations to meet with them. Authorities had not registered any new Afghan arrivals since 2001 when Iran extended prima facie refugee status to Afghans who arrived before the end of that year. In March 2006, Iran agreed to extend its agreement with UNHCR and Afghanistan for the repatriation of Afghan refugees for another year.
Iran's 1963 Regulations Relating to Refugees (1963 Regulations) provided that "Refugees should not be forcibly returned to the country where their life or freedom is endangered for political, racial or religious reasons or for their membership in a particular social group." Iran conducted refugee status determinations through the Foreign Nationals Executive Co-ordination Council but neither shared information on the process nor permitted UNHCR to issue protection letters to refugees.
Detention/Access to Courts
Police arrested hundreds of refugees in Zahedan, Zabol, Mashad, and Kerman at the end of 2004 and into 2005. Authorities held refugees for up to four days and reportedly beat them and also detained undocumented Afghans who sought repatriation, pending clarification of their status.
During 2005, authorities staged numerous raids on poor neighborhoods and detained undocumented Afghans. UNHCR was able to secure the release of documented refugees caught in these raids while not carrying their papers.
In November, BAFIA began to reregister Afghan refugees who had registered for voluntary repatriation and turned in their refugee cards for exit papers, but not left. The registration exercise was open to those who registered initially in 2001 and reregistered in 2003, and the Government extended it to run through May 2006. In March 2006, BAFIA began to allow Afghans who did not reregister in 2003 to regularize their status, provided they could give a valid reason for having missed the 2003 exercise. As of April 2006, an estimated 940,000 Afghan refugees registered, although BAFIA would not release final figures until the registration was complete.
Although most Afghans who arrived during the 1980s held permanent "involuntary migrant" status, many Afghan refugees had no documentation or only temporary registration cards issued in 1993 for repatriation.
The 1963 Regulations stated that "A refugee has the right to refer to Iranian Courts to demand justice." In 2004, BAFIA and UNHCR established Dispute Settlement Committees (DSC) in place of courts in seven provinces with significant Afghan communities to mediate legal disputes that might have hindered repatriation and added five more Committees in 2005. Each DSC consisted of a judge, one representative each from BAFIA and the Afghan community, and a lawyer contracted by UNHCR. DSCs mediated nonpayment of salaries and landlords' refusal to return housing deposits and were successful in reimbursing refugees amounts ranging from $850 to $14,500. UNHCR also offered refugees free legal advice.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Most refugees lived in urban centers and settlements, with around 31,000 still living in camps. According to the 1963 Regulations, refugees could choose their places of residence "subject to observance of the country's laws and security considerations, [and] in accordance with the directions given by the Permanent Committee." Although the 1963 Regulations provided for travel documents absent "national security or public order considerations," there were no reports of authorities actually issuing any.
Regulations passed in February 2004 restricted Afghan (but not Iraqi) refugees' residence in certain cities and regions, limiting mortgages and renting or owning property.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
In 2004, Iran imposed new restrictions to require work permits, increase sanctions on employers of Afghans without work permits, and deport those working without them. These regulations remained in force during 2005, but did not apply to Iraqi refugees and Iran only enforced them sporadically. Iranian economists warned that the repatriation of Afghans could cost the country a vital part of its workforce.
The 1963 Regulations allowed recognized refugees "employment in the fields authorized for foreign nationals and those fields deemed appropriate." The Labor Law mandated the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to issue, extend, and renew work permits to refugees, subject to the written agreements of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. Most refugees worked in the informal sector and did not enjoy the legal labor protections of nationals.
The 1963 Regulations provided refugees the right to the "acquisition of movable and immovable properties" generally on par with foreigners. The 2004 regulations, however, restricted Afghans' rights to obtain mortgages, to rent and own property, and to open bank accounts, but did not apply to Iraqi refugees.
Public Relief and Education
In June, Iran cut the school fees charged to Afghan students. For the 2005-06 school year, Iran charged students $22 to $74 (200,000 to 670,000 Rials), depending on the level of schooling and the province. For 2004-05, fees ranged from $89 to $133 (800,000 to 1,200,000 Rials). Parents of four or more children only had to pay fees for the first three.
The 1963 Regulations allowed refugees the use of medical and social services on par with nationals. To encourage repatriation, authorities increased health insurance premiums and introduced a tax early in 2005 and UNHCR reduced medical assistance.
Few international humanitarian agencies operated in the country as the Government restricted their operations and did not allow UNHCR to fund them.