Visiting the Islamic Republic of Iran as part of his tour to the region to review UNHCR’s operations, especially in relation to the Afghan situation, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, Mr George Okoth-Obbo commended the Islamic Republic of Iran for the exemplarily role that it is playing in relation to refugees, especially at a time when 60 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. He noted UNHCR’s commitment to enhance its support towards Iran in this regard.
During his mission to Iran, Mr. Okoth-Obbo met with senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior and interacted with the Ministries of Education and Health, Afghan communities, key partners and the diplomatic community. He also visited refugee centres, schools, health centres and other facilities that provide services to refugees.
Citing numerous examples of the generosity of the Iranian government, Mr. Okoth-Obbo said: “For over 30 years, Iran has demonstrated a humanitarian commitment to protect millions of refugees. This is heart-warming, particularly at a time of strain for those who are being forcibly displaced worldwide.”
He welcomed the decision of the Government of Iran to provide a legal status to the estimated 2 million undocumented Afghans in the country in addition to the nearly one million Afghans currently registered. He also committed UNHCR’s continued support towards this process.
He commended the high quality of health care offered to refugees on par with Iranian nationals. He noted that the inclusion of refugees in Iran’s Universal Public Health Insurance scheme is exemplarily. He called for efforts to stabilize this initiative in the coming year and committed UNHCR’s support to the government towards this scheme.
In relation to education of refugees, he commended the government for providing refugee children access to Iranian schools. In particular, he recognised the criticality of the Supreme Leader’s decree that allowed for children of undocumented families to attend schools in the country. Mr. Okoth-Obbo pledged UNHCR’s support in easing the pressure that the educational system will face as they enrol even more children.
He noted that refugees can also be an asset to their host country, while recognising that the government and UNHCR has provided vocational training and created jobs to ensure that refugees, especially vulnerable women, become self-reliant. He noted that these skills would help them throughout their lives, in Iran and also when they return back to their country.
In this context, he reaffirmed UNHCR’s commitment to Iran and the Afghan refugees, and noted that the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) – the quadripartite regional framework between the governments of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran together with UNHCR – has been a useful mechanism for refugee programmes.
Mr. Okoth-Obbo also thanked the government for supporting some 30,000 Iraqi refugees who have been residing here for decades, and for ensuring they have access to services in the country.
During Assistant High Commissioner, George Okoth-Obbo’s visit to Iran from 18-21 April he was accompanied by Ms. Daisy Dell, Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific who is primarily responsible for the Afghan Refugee Situation. On 18th April, he arrived in Dogharoun, Iran’s border station with Afghanistan and then proceeded to Torbat-e-Jam refugee settlement. He also visited refugee projects in Mashhad. In Tehran, he also visited the Solymankhani Administrative Centre for refugees. This was Mr. Okoth-Obbo’s first mission to the Islamic Republic of Iran in his capacity as Assistant High Commissioner for Operations.