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More than one million Afghans are registered as refugees residing inIran. Many of them are settled in urban areas in search for jobs and better livelihoods. With only limited aid reaching the large population of poor Afghan refugees, the Danish Refugee Council is now setting up a national programme to respond to needs in Iran.
In search of jobs and ways of surviving, Afghan refugees in Iran are drawn to urban centres. While one million Afghans are officially registered as refugees in Iran, the number is allegedly thrice as high, with an estimated two million Afghans living as illegal residents in Iran. Since 2005, Iran has not issued refugee status to new arrivals.
Invited by the Government of Iran’s Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA), the Danish Refugee Council is now establishing a national programme. Based in Teheran, the ambition is to focus on livelihood support for Afghan refugees. Initially, efforts will be introduced in the capital, and are to be expanded to other Iranian urban centres.
This new set-up allows the Danish Refugee Council to strengthen a regional response to the displacement of Afghans residing in Afghanistan, and in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.
“We believe that a programme responding to the Afghan crisis needs to be regional in terms of set-up and outreach. This is due to both Afghan refugee policy in Iran that still encourages return, as well as the needs to support a sustainable reintegration of returning refugees in a strategic and coordinated manner,” says Ann Mary Olsen, head of the international department in the Danish Refugee Council.
Today, around 97 percent of the estimated three million Afghan refugees and unregistered migrants in Iran live in urban settings. The Danish Refugee Council’s response will focus on improving livelihoods in urban centres in an attempt to reach out to the population living at the margins of society.
Most Afghan refugee families are hugely dependant on the able-bodied males in the family and the income their daily labour provides. Hardly any of the refugees seem to be involved in any form of entrepreneurship and income opportunities remain uniform and scarce. Women are rarely involved in income-generating activities, and further, the general level of education is low with many Afghan refugees being illiterate.
The limited knowledge of Afghan refugees in Iran and the absence of experienced NGOs have influenced local stakeholders’ ability to examine the plight of the Afghan refugees further. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to receive the refugee population in an appropriate manner, the refugee population remains a population group with limited ability to build sustainable economic livelihoods during their displacement and in a precautious situation from a protection perspective.
From the main office in Teheran, the Danish Refugee Council plans to launch initial activities during the coming weeks.