Once an Afghan refugee in Iran, now a high-flier in his own country

Telling the Human Story, 5 August 2013

© UNHCR
With Iran's generosity in providing access to education for refugees, the younger generation of Afghan refugees in Iran has become increasingly enthusiastic about education.

TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, August 5 (UNHCR) Twenty-eight years after his family fled war in Afghanistan to neighbouring Iran, Seyyed Zia Hosseini has returned home from the country that gave him shelter and an education that allows him to help rebuild his native land.

Hosseini is one of many Afghan refugees returning to their country as successful graduates from Iranian universities. Two years after returning, Hosseini is a senior consultant to Afghanistan's Minister of Urbanization. "I even have the opportunity to become minister."

Hosseini was one year old when he fled with his mother and four-year-old sister from Sar-e-Pol in Afghanistan, first to Pakistan and then to the Islamic Republic of Iran, where they settled in the holy city of Qom.

Hosseini was a very successful student and eventually got a scholarship from the Iranian government that led to a PhD in Project Management and Development from Tehran University.

"Me and my sister, also a PhD holder and university professor in Qom, both studied in Iran and are very happy to have been fortunate enough to get so far," Hosseini said. Following his graduation, he married and moved back to Afghanistan with his new bride.

With Iran's generosity in providing access to education for refugees, the younger generation of Afghan refugees in Iran has become increasingly enthusiastic about education. According to a 2009 census by the Iranian government, literacy among Afghan refugees has increased from 6 per cent in 1981 to 69 per cent in 2009.

UNHCR, which has taken refugee education extremely seriously, is grateful to Iran. The UN refugee agency has supported the Iranian Ministry of Education in providing primary and secondary education for refugee students and implementation of additional educational programmes to address the most critical needs of refugees.

Another important element has been the Iranian government's initiative to provide older out-of-school refugees with the opportunity to catch up through literacy classes held by the Ministry of Education.

"UNHCR intervenes to alleviate the burden of different educational fees on refugee families, enabling them to send their children, including girls, to school," says Bernard Doyle, UNHCR's representative in Iran, lauding the Iranian government for its years of effort to educate refugees.

Among education projects implemented by UNHCR, are construction of schools in refugee-populated areas, the provision of equipment and supplies for schools where the majority of pupils are Afghan, equipping libraries in both settlements and urban areas, providing transportation to students from settlements and helping vulnerable students to cover part of their educational costs such as registration fees, books and stationary.

Although Hosseini enjoyed every educational possibility in Iran, he firmly believes that returning to a homeland is best for every refugee. He has enjoyed good opportunities and hopes to remain in Afghanistan.

"Even though I know that not all refugees have the same conditions and truly not all can return, I'd like to tell all Afghans that no matter which country they go to, it won't be home," Hosseini said, "It would be best if they returned and benefitted from their education received abroad, and used their acquired skills to help rebuild their own country."

By Dina Faramarzi in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran