• Crisis Severity ?
    3.5
    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 ?
    2.9
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Access Constraints ?
    3.0
    No constraints
    Extreme constraints

Key figures

  • 82,926,000 Total population [?]
  • 3,400,000 People affected [?]
  • 3,400,000 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

06/12/2021

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

Humanitarian Access

07/12/2021

HIGH CONSTRAINTS 

Humanitarian access in Iran has deteriorated following an influx of Afghan refugees into Iran after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021. Nearly 3,700 refugees entered Iran between August–October. Most Afghan refugees enter irregularly and lack the proper documentation to fully access essential services. Even though healthcare services and education in Iran are available for everyone, including undocumented refugees, access to those services remains challenging because the fear of deportation leads to the decision to not approach health centres or enrol children in schools.

Administrative requirements and processes pose access constraints for documented refugees: document renewal is costly, and the economic situation in Iran limits refugees’ ability to regularly renew the needed documents to access services, including education, livelihood, and shelter assistance as provided by the Iranian Government.

The economic sanctions imposed on Iran since the 1980s affect the humanitarian operations of the limited number of organisations in the country. Challenges in transferring cash and importing goods are reported, resulting in delays in the provision of aid. Sanctions also affect the import of certain medical equipment and medicines by the Government.

Read more in the latest ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview.

Risk

Increased displacement into surrounding countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran, results in increased needs and heightened protection concerns Latest update: 26/10/2021

Probability

Highly unlikely Somewhat likely Highly likely

Impact

Very low Moderate Major

Rationale

The Taliban takeover is likely to increase humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, driving internal and external displacement. The economic and political instability, insecurity, and the limited availability of legal migration routes are likely to push people towards irregular routes to facilitate entry to Iran and Pakistan, whether for transit or long-term stay?. The number of people who left Afghanistan by official land crossings remained low during July–August, as the borders were mostly closed?. Pakistan and Iran will likely keep their official borders closed to avoid new displacement and to pressure the US and Europe to step in with a third-country resettlement plan?. Officials from both countries have stated that they could not accommodate more refugees?.

Closed borders, lack of access to passports and visas, and lack of migration-friendly policies of destination countries are likely to push people to use irregular migration channels and result in lack of access to international protection?. Any new arrivals in Pakistan and Iran will join more than 2.2 million registered refugees and three million Afghans of varying status who have been living in those countries for decades?. Afghan refugees and migrants already face a dire situation in those host countries. Many of them have returned to Afghanistan because of a lack of economic opportunities following the COVID-19 outbreaks or lack of legal status and use of arbitrary arrests and deportations?. Without designated policies to support them, newly arrived Afghan migrants and asylum seekers are likely to face similar challenges.

Iran and Pakistan face their own economic and political struggles, with Pakistan heavily dependent on international assistance and Iran suffering from strict sanctions?. Both countries are vulnerable to environmental hazards and high COVID-19 spread. A new migration wave is likely to further stress economies and overwhelm civil services in host countries, leading to increased competition between displaced Afghans and host communities in Pakistan and Iran.

Impact

Although there had not been much movement across official crossings as at September, irregular migration has been reported?. IIn a worstcase scenario, up to 500,000 Afghans could attempt to move to neighbouring countries between September–December 2021?. Pakistan alone is predicted to receive as many as 700,000 new arrivals in the first year after the Taliban takeover?. Both Pakistan and Iran have set up closed camps in preparation. Iran has flagged that they will repatriate Afghans when conditions improve in Afghanistan?.

Displaced Afghans, especially those who are undocumented and resorting to irregular migration channels, are likely to find themselves stranded at the border with increased protection, shelter, and NFI needs. In countries of arrival, displaced Afghans are likely to face unemployment, discrimination, and limited access to financial resources – conditions that will be aggravated by their lack of legal support in foreign countries?. Afghans who are undocumented and lack international protection will not be entitled to access essential services. Humanitarian organisations will face challenges to reach people in need because of the difficulty of identifying their locations.

Increased migration to Pakistan and Iran is likely to strain the resources of host communities and fuel those communities’ anti-Afghan xenophobia, triggering verbal and physical abuse and harassment?.

Read this risk

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.?