Refugees in Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is host to one of the largest and most protracted urban refugee situations in the world, and has provided asylum to refugees for nearly four decades. There are an estimated 3.5 million Afghans residing in Iran, inclusive of registered refugees, passport holders and undocumented Afghans; since many arrived around 35 years ago, a large number are second or third generation Afghans living in Iran.

According to the Amayesh IX registration phase which was completed in mid-2014, the government estimates 951,142 Afghan refugees and 28,268 Iraqi refugees reside in Iran. Approximately 97% live in urban and semi-urban areas, while the remaining 3% reside in 20 refugee settlements which are managed by UNHCR’s main government counterpart the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs (BAFIA) of the Ministry of Interior.

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for refugee registration and status determination, as well as the issuing of refugee identity cards known as Amayesh cards. These require renewal on a regular basis and enable refugees to access basic services as well as access to work permits.

620,000 Afghan passport holders who were previously undocumented or Amayesh cardholders have been issued Iranian visas that allow them to reside in the country.

The government estimates that some 1.5 - 2 million undocumented Afghans are in Iran. In an effort to regularize this population, a preliminary identification exercise for undocumented Afghans was initiated in February 2017 as the first step to a registration process, targeting certain groups of the undocumented population.

Voluntary repatriation continues under the auspices of tripartite agreements signed by UNHCR and the governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan. However, voluntary return has been witnessing a steady decline in recent years, largely due to continued instability in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2016, 2,426 individuals wishing to return to their country of origin were assisted by the Government of Iran and UNHCR. From 2002 to end 2016, UNHCR assisted 979,410 refugees (925,235 Afghans and 30,662 Iraqis) to voluntarily return to their homeland.