The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1950. According to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees.
UNHCR in Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to host one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations of the world, the majority of which are Afghan refugees; 951,142 according to government estimates.
UNHCR opened its first office in Iran in 1984 and expanded its presence in response to the influx of Iraqi refugees arising from the Gulf War in 1991, and the start of Afghans’ mass return movement to Afghanistan in 1992. Since its establishment UNHCR has maintained an uninterrupted field presence countrywide in coordination with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
UNHCR’s central country office is based in Tehran along with Tehran’s field office. Three sub-offices are located in Mashhad, Kerman and Shiraz and field units operate from both Esfahan and Dogharoun. UNHCR has a presence in Persian Gulf Administrative Center of BAFIA in Tehran province to facilitate voluntary return of refugees to their country of origin.
In Iran UNHCR’s government counterpart is the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs (BAFIA) of the Ministry of Interior. In addition, UNHCR also collaborates with other government ministries and organisations as well as a number of local and international NGOs to ensure that all registered refugees are aware of their rights under the rules and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and have access to basic assistance services including legal counsel.
The legal status of refugees is defined in two international instruments: the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Islamic Republic of Iran acceded to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol on 28 July 1976, with reservations to Article 17 (wage earning employment), Article 23 (public relief), Article 24 (labour legislation and social security) and Article 26 (freedom of movement).
In recent years however, the Government of Iran has gradually been introducing policies conducive to solutions for refugees and the attainment of rights for the Afghan and Iraqi population living in Iran, and provides access to basic education, health and livelihoods services to refugees with minimal financial aid from the international community.