U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Iran



Refoulement/Asylum  Iran acknowledged deporting some 140,000 Afghans, including some with documented prima facie refugee status, under a tripartite agreement with Afghanistan and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Authorities revoked several refugees' residence permits, subjecting them to possible arrest and deportation. In January 2005, UNHCR threatened to suspend aid with Commissioner Ruud Lubbers stating "we are not going to be instrumental in forced repatriation."

A joint screening project between the Government's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) and UNHCR continued to allow deportees at the Dogharoun border to claim asylum or provide other reasons why authorities should not deport them. The Government failed to implement a similar program to which it had agreed at the Milak border-crossing in the southeast and UNHCR had no access to deportees there. Courts ordered about 14 percent of all deportations, and UNHCR had no access to these cases.

Iran honored UNHCR's advisory for Iraqi refugees, which specified 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.

Iran conducted refugee status determinations through the Foreign Nationals Executive Co-ordination Council under the 1963 Regulations Relating to Refugees (1963 Regulations) but neither shared information on the process nor permitted UNHCR to issue protection letters to refugees. The Government had not registered any new arrivals since 2001 when Iran extended prima facie refugee status to Afghans who arrived before the end of that year.

Detention  Police arrested hundreds of refugees in Zahedan, Zabol, Mashad, and Kerman at the end of the year and into 2005 and reportedly held them for up to four days and beat them. The authorities also detained undocumented Afghans who sought repatriation, pending clarification of their status.

Although most Afghans who arrived during the 1980s held permanent "involuntary migrant" status, many Afghan refugees were either undocumented or held 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." 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 hinder repatriation, such as landlords' refusals to return housing deposits. DSCs were successful in reimbursing refugees amounts ranging from $850 to $14,500. Each DSC consisted of a judge, one representative each from BAFIA and the Afghan community, and a lawyer contracted by UNHCR. UNHCR also offered refugees free legal advice.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  Iran passed regulations in February that increased fines for employers of Afghans without work permits and imposed new restrictions making it difficult for Afghans to obtain mortgages, rent or own property, and open bank accounts. Iranian economists warned that the repatriation of Afghans could cost the country a vital part of its workforce. Iran did not impose the same restrictions on Iraqi refugees.

The 1963 Regulations allowed recognized refugees "employment in the fields authorized for foreign nationals and those fields deemed appropriate." The Labor Law authorized 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. Refugees did not enjoy the legal labor protections of nationals, but DSCs sometimes mediated non-payment of salaries.

The 1963 Regulations provided refugees the right to the "acquisition of movable and immovable properties" generally on par with foreigners.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Most refugees lived in urban centers and settlements, with less than ten percent of Iraqis and two percent of Afghans in camps. Iran closed most of its camps following mass Iraqi repatriation. Residence in the remaining camps dropped from 50,000 to 8,000. The February regulations also imposed new restrictions on residence in certain cities and regions.

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.

Public Relief and Education  The February regulations lifted the exemption from school fees Afghan refugee children previously enjoyed. In June, UNHCR cut all education assistance to Afghans. The 1963 Regulations allowed refugees medical and social services on par with nationals. Authorities increased health insurance premiums and introduced a nominal tax early in 2005 to encourage repatriation and UNHCR reduced healthcare assistance.

Few international humanitarian agencies operated in the country as the Government restricted their operations and did not allow UNHCR to fund them.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


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