UN team to visit Iran to assess status of refugees: Envoy

Tasnim – A delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is going to visit Iran next month to make an assessment of the situation of refugees, especially the Afghans, UNHCR representative in Iran said.

In an interview with the Tasnim News Agency in Iran’s northeastern city of Mashhad, Sivanka Dhanapala said the UN delegation will be comprised of envoys and representatives of UNHCR member states.

The delegation will carry out an evaluation of the conditions of refugees in Iran, particularly the Afghan refugees, and is also planned to pay a visit to Mashhad due to the large number of the Afghans the city is hosting, he explained.

The upcoming trip could greatly help attract international supports for the refugees in Iran, Dhanapala noted.

The envoy further rejected the claims that the UNHCR has in recent years shifted its attention away from the Afghan refugees because of the other regional conflicts, arguing that the conditions of Afghans may have been overshadowed by the other developments in the media outlets, but the UN has not forgotten the Afghan people at all.

While more than 800,000 registered Afghans reside in Iran, the country has done its utmost to make them feel comfortable in the past decades.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has already issued an order stressing that all Afghan children, even children of the undocumented migrants living in the country illegally, have the right to register and study in Iranian schools.

In May 2014, UN resident coordinator in Iran Garry Lewis appreciated the measures adopted by the Islamic Republic in hosting foreign nationals, saying Iran is the world’s second biggest country accepting foreign refugees.

“Iran has very well hosted the refugees over the past three decades,” he said, adding that preceded by Pakistan, Iran is the second country in the world that accepts the highest number of refugees.

Out of the total 880,000 registered refugees in Iran, Lewis explained, 840,000 are Afghans and the rest come from Iraq.

He also pointed to the living conditions of the foreign nationals in Iran, saying 97 percent of the refugees reside in the cities, while only 3 percent are located in refugee camps.

The high rate of Afghans living in cities is a sign that Iran has taken valuable measures for the refugees’ health and occupation, Lewis noted.

The UN representative said some 10,000 Afghan refugees return to their country from Iran each year, stressing that stability should prevail in Afghanistan so that more Afghans would return home of their own volition.

Iran has hosted Afghan refugees since the late 1970s following the occupation of their country by the Soviet Union. Although many of those refugees have returned to their country voluntarily, there are still hundreds of thousands of documented and undocumented Afghans in Iran.