• Crisis Severity ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Impact ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Humanitarian Conditions ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Complexity ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Access Constraints ?
    No constraints
    Extreme constraints



Iran hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, the vast majority from Afghanistan. Around 1 million registered Afghan refugees and between 1.5 and 2 million undocumented Afghans live in Iran.?

Some 97% of Afghan refugees live in urban areas, while the other 3% live in approximately 20 refugee settlements across the country. Over half of the refugees (55% ) live in the three provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, and Khorasan Razavi.?

In recent years, policies have slowly been introduced by the Iranian government to increase the provision and renewal of Amayesh cards, or refugee ID cards. The Amayesh card grants conditional freedom of movement, temporary work permits, and access to the national education and healthcare systems for registered refugees. The situation of undocumented Afghans is a stark contrast to registered refugees, with extreme restrictions on livelihood opportunities, access to education, or healthcare, and constant threat of deportation by Iranian authorities.?

Latest Developments


There are no significant recent humanitarian developments. This crisis is being monitored by our analysis team.

For more information related to the COVID-19 impact on Afghan refugees in Iran, see content below.

Humanitarian Access



The humanitarian landscape in Iran is unique, with 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 environment were recorded.?

Read more in the latest ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview.

Key Priorities


Protection: Forced deportation is a significant risk. There were 856,793 undocumented returnees to Afghanistan in 2020, of which 324,779 were deportations. 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 and those with Amayesh cards are only eligible for conditional work permits, 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


The COVID-19 outbreak in Iran is causing thousands of Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan. More than 53,000 Afghans returnees arrived in Nimroz and Herat provinces during the second week of March 2020, an increase of 171% from the previous week. 

Afghans cite the inability to access Iranian health facilities in case of illness as the reason for their departure. Further, industries such as construction and agriculture, which provide informal employment for many Afghan refugees in Iran, have reported closures due to the virus, forcing refugees back to Afghanistan in search of livelihood opportunities.

Afghanistan initially closed the border between the two countries on 23 February, but reopened it two days later based on WHO recommendations. Given the porous nature of the border, controlled crossings with health screenings are better than forcing Afghans to use informal crossings.?

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


The exact number of Afghans in Iran is unknown, because most are undocumented. Around 1.5 to 2 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.