• Crisis Severity ?
    3.4
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Impact ?
    2.8
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Humanitarian Conditions ?
    4.1
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Complexity ?
    2.7
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Access Constraints ?
    2.0
    No constraints
    Extreme constraints

Key figures

  • 82,926,000 Total population [?]
  • 3,030,000 People affected [?]
  • 3,030,000 People in Need [?]

Overview

13/09/2021

Iran hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with the vast majority of it from Afghanistan. Around 780,000 registered Afghan refugees and 2.3 million undocumented Afghans live in Iran ?. 96% of Afghan refugees live in urban areas, while the other 4% live in approximately 20 refugee settlements across the country. 55% of the refugees live in the three provinces of Isfahan, Razavi Khorasan, and Tehran ?.

Since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021, the number of Afghans seeking asylum in Iran in search of safety and economic opportunity has increased dramatically. Up to 5,000 people were reported to arrive daily in the aftermath of the takeover, compared to 1,400–2,500 on average beforehand ?.

In recent years, the Iranian Government has slowly introduced policies to increase the provision and renewal of Amayesh cards (refugee identity cards). Amayesh cards grant registered refugees conditional freedom of movement, temporary work permits, and access to the national education and healthcare systems. The situation of undocumented Afghans is in stark contrast to registered refugees, with extreme restrictions on livelihood opportunities and access to education and healthcare, as well as constant threat of abuse, exploitation, and deportation by Iranian authorities ?.

Every year, thousands of Afghans return to their country of origin voluntarily because of lost work and wages, discrimination, restrictions on movement, and lack of access to medical services. An estimated 663,000 Afghans have returned from Iran since the beginning of 2021, up from 420,000 in 2020 and 264,000 in 2019 ?. This might be attributed to the economic decline in Iran resulting from COVID-19 and loss of livelihood or involuntarily return caused by lack of documentation ?. The impact of other compounding factors has aggravated humanitarian needs, as Iran is highly prone to earthquakes and other natural hazards (including drought, floods, and locust infestations) that are disruptive to livelihoods and the economy ?.

Latest Developments

24/08/2021

No recent significant humanitarian developments. The crisis is being monitored by our analysis team. 

Humanitarian Access

10/03/2021

HIGH CONSTRAINTS 

The humanitarian landscape in Iran is unique, with only a handful of international organisations operating and access constrained by the authorities. Accessing aid is dependent on people’s legal status, with most aid delivered to Amayesh card holders (an identity card for refugees). Amayesh card holders, visa holders, and undocumented but registered Afghans can, in theory, access basic education, healthcare – including for COVID-19 treatment – and humanitarian aid.

Significant government oversight limits the provision of aid to undocumented Afghans however, who also cannot legally engage in most livelihood activities and are at risk of deportation. Field mission requests to deliver aid need to be approved prior to every mission, allowing the government to enforce conditions on aid delivery and the movement of aid workers. Continued economic sanctions imposed on Iran risk negatively affecting the transfer of funds into the country, including for humanitarian organisations, which limits the provision of aid to those in need. COVID-19 containment measures suspended non-essential programmes, dramatically reducing the number of operations and limiting access to humanitarian aid – such as the distribution of school equipment.

There was little impact on the procurement of relief items however, as the majority of this is done in-country. The UNHCR repatriation programme, which was suspended because of COVID-19 between 4 March–29 April, has resumed, increasing cross-country movement and access to assistance for those wishing to return to their countries of origin. Fewer logistical constraints directly linked to the physical and natural environment – for example, flooding or landslides – were recorded.?

Read more in the latest ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview.

Key Priorities

10/03/2021

Protection: Forced deportation is a significant risk. 856,793 undocumented Afghans returned to their country of origin in 2020, of whom 324,779 were deported. Afghans are at risk of detention, extortion, and mistreatment by Iranian authorities. Repeated attempts by Afghans to smuggle themselves back into Iran puts them at risk of abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking.?

Livelihoods: Undocumented Afghans lack access to formal work opportunities. Those with Amayesh cards are only eligible for conditional work permits that are limited to 87 different types of employment, primarily in construction, agriculture, or other vocational industries. These sectors are often seasonal and are particularly vulnerable to economic sanctions applied to Iran.?

Impact of COVID-19

10/03/2021

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Iran has accounted for 25% of total cases in the region, with 1,459,370 reported cases as at 6 February 2021. Thousands of Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan during the pandemic, a record number since 2018. More than 53,000 Afghan returnees arrived in Nimroz and Herat provinces in Afghanistan during the second week of March 2020, an increase of 171% from the previous week. Industries such as construction and agriculture, which provide informal employment for many Afghan refugees in Iran, were closed because of the virus, forcing refugees back to Afghanistan in search of livelihood opportunities.?

The ACAPS team is monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information related to the outbreak, see the ACAPS COVID-19 project.

Information Gaps and Needs

10/03/2021

The exact number of Afghans in Iran is unknown, because most are undocumented. Around 2.1–2.5 million have been living in Iran for the last four decades. The vast majority of Afghans live in urban areas alongside host communities. This makes it difficult to know their location and humanitarian needs, and also poses a challenge for any coordinated humanitarian response.?