Afghan refugees in Iran grapple with fear of deportation, poverty

By Artemis Razmipour

Tehran, May 17 (EFE).- Thousands of Afghan refugees in Iran are struggling economically and in constant fear of being deported to Afghanistan, from which they escaped after the Taliban came to power in August 2021.

The lack of security and employment makes life difficult for hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have fled to Iran, joining around 3.6 million refugees who have lived in the Persian country for decades.

“We do not have any document that legalizes our stay in Iran,” Goli tells Efe.

The 60-year-old woman made it to Iran a few months ago with her 15-year-old son and three young grandchildren, whose parents died during an attack back in Afghanistan.

Goli is scared the police will detain and deport her son, who works as a seamster in Tehran to feed his family.

For Rabee, 16, that fear became a reality when one of her brothers was sent back to Afghanistan a few days ago.

The deportee helped support the family, including the elderly parents.

But now, part of that responsibility falls on Rabee, who works at a flower nursery three days a week and goes to school during the rest of the week.

The school, where she studies, is directed by Abdolahmad Naderi, an Afghan who arrived in Tehran 35 years ago and established a school to help educate migrants from his country.

“I have spoken with the relevant authorities to help the Afghans who have arrive in the country, and they have told me that they have arrived illegally and we cannot give them documents and that this is not done in any country,” Naderi tells Efe.

“The UN must take action as soon as possible,” he stresses.

Iranian interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said this month that his country would conduct a census to count Afghan nationals living in Iran and added it was mandatory for all to participate.

A message that many Afghans are not sure how to take in. On the one hand, taking part in the census can help them receive aid, but on the other, it could be a way of deporting a large number of them.

Iran, together with Pakistan, hosts 90% of the millions of Afghans who have moved out of the country in recent decades, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

UNHCR data shows that before the regime change in Kabul, there were more than 3.6 million Afghans in Iran. A total of 780,000 of them are registered as refugees, 586,000 hold an Afghan passport with some form of Iranian visa, while more than 2.2 million are undocumented.

The number of Afghans who have joined them in recent months is undetermined since the Iranian government does not make it public.

Last year, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that between 4,000 and 5,000 Afghans were crossing into Iran daily, fleeing the Taliban regime.

In recent years, the Iranian authorities have facilitated access to education for Afghan children, including the undocumented, but there are still restrictions on the healthcare system.

The economic difficulties, meanwhile, force many refugee children to work.

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