Afghan migrants in Iran are raising concerns about the harsh living conditions they face, as well as improper treatment by the police and degrading encounters with some Iranian citizens. They report being denied access to essential services, such as residency renewal, and various public amenities, including banking, telecommunications, healthcare, education, and schooling. Additionally, they are living under the constant threat of forced deportation. According to them, only a select few refugeesin the country enjoy access to these services and the freedom to move about. Meanwhile, Iranian media reports suggest an increase in “Afghanophobia” within the nation this year. This surge is attributed to border tensions with the Taliban, the Helmand Water issue, and a suicide attack at the Shah Cheragh Shrine.
Following the fall of the previous government, thousands of former soldiers, journalists, civil activists, politicians, and other citizens have migrated to Iran. The United Nations has stated that 780,000 refugees have been registered by the organization, with 2.6 million undocumented and an additional 600,000 holding legal documents living in the country. Tehran, however, claims that approximately five million Afghan refugees are residing in Iran.
Thousands of Afghan refugees in Iran are grappling with various challenges. They report facing forced deportations, detentions, and humiliation, along with being unable to access public services due to a lack of legal documentation. They confirm their inability to resolve their issues in the country and express severe limitations in employment opportunities. According to Afghan refugees in Iran, they are currently caught in a deadlock regarding the renewal of their residency visas. They accuse some Iranian officials of corruption and insist that these officials have turned the visa renewal process into a profitable business for themselves.
One Afghan asylum seeker who went to Iran following the Taliban’s takeover states, “Those who have entered Iran legally have their visas extended every three months for a total of one year. The official cost of visa renewal is 180,000 Iranian Tomans, but it is not implemented. We are forced to renew it in the black market, which costs more than five million Iranian Tomans. Various Iranian officials are involved in this business, which is why they do not pursue legal procedures.”
However, thousands of Afghan refugees in Iran are lodging complaints about inappropriate treatment by the police in this country. They claim that Iranian police in various cities have acted contrary to “human rights and Islamic” values, subjecting Afghan refugees to humiliation, insults, and beatings. According to them, even those with valid identification cards live in fear of detention and forced deportation, and their cards are not renewed, therefore they cannot leave their workplaces and roam around freely.
These refugees also lament the lack of living facilities and assert that even students and individuals with legal documents cannot have bank cards. They state that obtaining such cards requires a housing contract, municipality legal forms, and a complex bureaucracy that is beyond the capabilities of ordinary students and laborers. Consequently, they are often deprived of shopping in stores and receiving their wages most of the time.
One migrant, who prefers anonymity in this report, says, “When a laborer asks for payment, the employer refuses to pay in cash and claims they will transfer it to their bank account. But where can a poor laborer have a bank account? [they are not permitted to have one] Sometimes, employers use this excuse and nitpicking to deny laborers their rightful wages.”
On the other hand, some migrants, while acknowledging the difficulties faced by Iranian citizens in their cost of living, argue that the rising prices of goods and commodities have become a serious problem for Iranians and have taken away job opportunities from Afghan refugees in the country. According to their claims, the increase in the cost of living for Iranian citizens has exacerbated the mistreatment, discrimination, and forced expulsion of Afghan migrants.
In the preparation of this report, several refugees confirmed that many Iranian employers exploit Afghan laborers’ desperation and withhold their wages. One laborer states, “The employer doesn’t pay what’s due; they often delay and procrastinate. If we complain, they threaten to report us to the police for crossing the border illegally. Consequently, we are forced to remain silent, and sometimes for two to three months, they don’t pay our wages, and we can’t say anything.”
This comes as, not long ago, a widely circulated video on social media depicted an Iranian employer beating and verbally abusing his Afghan laborer in the middle of the street. Similar videos are frequently shared on social media networks, illustrating how Iranian employers withhold Afghan workers’ rights and subject them to humiliation and insults. Workers who have had their rights violated say there is no authority to address their complaints. They add that if they turn to the police or the courts, these institutions detain or deport them instead of resolving their issues.
It should be noted that Afghan refugees in Iran are categorized into various groups. Some, with “Amayesh” cards, enjoy freedom of movement and obtain temporary work permits along with access to educational and healthcare services.
Another category includes refugees with census cards who face the risk of expulsion and travel bans. According to sources, those with these cards can only move around within the city of residence and may be safe from forced deportations. Yet, another group consists of visa holders whose residency periods have mostly expired, and they haven’t been able to extend them. However, the most significant challenges are faced by refugees who entered the country through smuggling routes after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Nevertheless, some refugees who came to Iran after the fall of the previous government say that, in addition to economic difficulties and high rent prices, their children are deprived of education, and most of them cannot enroll their kids in school.
Mohammad Reja, one of the Afghan refugees in Iran, states that he is at risk of forced deportation, and his residency visa has not been renewed. He complains about his mental and psychological state, saying, “We are experiencing confusion, helplessness, severe mental and psychological disturbance. We live a bitter life. Our children are not being enrolled in schools. I completed the documents for their enrollment, and for more than 15 days, I have been going from one school to another, but they say there is no space. They are enrolling Iranian children in front of me, but there is no place for our children.”
These refugees are currently lamenting their children’s lack of access to education, and the Iranian Welfare Organization has also confirmed that at least three thousand Afghan migrant children in Tehran alone have been left without education. Previously, the Iranian government initiated a plan that resulted in thousands of Afghan school students and university students being unable to register in schools and universities due to a lack of “Amayesh” cards. However, this issue has now been addressed under one condition; Afghan students are allowed to study if they register themselves to receive Afghan passports after enrolling.
Afghan refugees in Iran, in addition to residency issues, forced deportations, and limited access to social services, also complain about encountering demeaning treatment from some Iranians. They say that Iranians display discriminatory behavior towards refugees and hurl derogatory insults at them in breadlines at bakeshops, buses, and other public places, which is deeply distressing and racially biased.
Meanwhile, some Iranian social media users, due to rising prices and job scarcity, have called on their government to expel Afghan migrants. They argue that the Iranian nation has become “trapped by Afghans.” Some have written messages such as “We have been trapped by Afghans,” “Expel them, expel them,” and “Iranians unemployed, Afghans employed” as some of their common reactions.
Iranian media have had varying responses to the situation of Afghan refugees in the country. Some of these media outlets have acknowledged that this year has witnessed an intensification of “Afghanophobia” in the country. They attribute this “Afghanophobia” to Iran’s disagreements with the Taliban over the Helmand water rights, border tensions, and the Shah Cheragh attack carried out by ISIS.
On the other hand, Abdullah Mobini, the Chairman of Iran’s National Organization for Migration, stated during a meeting with Stefan Priesner, the UN Resident Coordinator in Iran, that if Iran does not receive increased financial support from this organization in 2024, the world will witness a change in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy towards migrants.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers the Islamic Republic of Iran host to one of the world’s largest and longest-standing refugee situations for over forty years. According to this organization, there are currently 780,000 registered refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate, 2.6 million undocumented migrants, and 600,000 passport-holding refugees living in Iran. It is estimated that around 233,000 individuals with valid travel documents entered Iran in the first half of this year.
This comes as an analytical institution that advises donor countries has provided statistics indicating that between 500,000 to one million people have entered Iran after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Previously, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian Foreign Minister, stated that approximately five million Afghan refugees are living in the country.
Thousands of citizens sought refuge in Iran following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, and some of them are awaiting the processing of their migration cases by European countries while facing the risk of forced deportation. However, recently, Seyyed Hassan Mortazavi, the Deputy Ambassador of Iran in Kabul, stated during a meeting with Mawlawi Noor Mohammad Saqib, the Minister of Hajj, Islamic Affairs and Endowments of the Taliban, that his country is not a haven for Taliban opponents.