TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Representative in Iran Sivanka Dhanapala lauded the Islamic Republic of Iran for “generously hosting one of the largest refugee situations” in the world.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran generously hosts one of the largest and most protracted refugee situations in the world,” Dhanapala said in an interview with the Tasnim news agency, adding that the Islamic Republic of Iran has set a global precedent by including all refugees into its Salamat Universal Public Health Insurance scheme (UPHI).
Following is what Mr. Dhanapala told Tasnim about Iran’s efforts to help refugees:
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has maintained an uninterrupted presence in the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1984, and has offices located in Tehran, Mashhad, Kerman, Shiraz, Esfahan and at the Dogharoun border. The Islamic Republic of Iran generously hosts one of the largest and most protracted refugee situations in the world; government estimates indicate that 951,142 Afghan refugees and 28,268 Iraqi refugees reside in Iran, in addition to 620,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas.
Since the first influx of Afghan refugees almost forty years ago, UNHCR has worked closely with its main government counterpart the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) of the Ministry of Interior, to assist and protect refugees in the country. In spite of the large voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan that took place between 2002 and 2005, Iran has witnessed an overall decline in the number of returnees to their country of origin, largely due to the continuing deterioration of the security and economic situation in Afghanistan.
As a result, UNHCR has been working very closely with the government in the areas of health, education, and livelihoods in an effort to improve access to services for refugees during their stay in Iran, and works under the umbrella of a regional multi-year strategy known as the Solutions Strategy for Afghan refugees (SSAR) in an effort to find durable solutions for the very large population of refugees hosted in Iran.
In regards to Health, the Islamic Republic of Iran has set a global precedent by including all refugees into its Salamat Universal Public Health Insurance scheme (UPHI) to provide all registered Afghan and Iraqi refugees with health insurance services similar to that of Iranian nationals. The initiative between the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs (BAFIA) of the Ministry of Interior, the Iranian Health Insurance Organization (IHIO Salamat) and UNHCR enables all registered refugees residing in Iran to have access to the Salamat insurance.
Rolled-out last year, the second cycle of UPHI has just been launched (on 3 October 2016) enabling all refugees to benefit from a comprehensive health insurance package for both para-clinical (e.g. radiology, medicine, doctor’s visits) and hospitalization services. Any registered refugees in Iran interested in enrolling in this cycle of UPHI should approach their local Pishkhan centre as soon as possible. During the second cycle, 142,000 identified vulnerable refugees will be able to benefit from exemption of fees while other refugees will have an opportunity to access the insurance scheme at the same cost as Iranian nationals.
The implementation of the UPHI creates large protection dividends and plays an essential role in the enhancing refugees’ social security and resilience status. It is anticipated that the second phase will evidence further progress in alleviating the challenges refugees are facing in meeting their medical needs, and will further improve refugees’ access to affordable healthcare at the same level as Iranian nationals.
In education too, there have been some major achievements. In May 2015, Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a decree to the Ministry of Education to allow all Afghan children of school age, regardless of documentation status, to attend primary and secondary school education, resulting in over 350,000 Afghan and Iraqi children being enrolled in the 2015-2016 school year. An addition, all refugees of school-age are now exempt from paying costly refugee-specific tuition fees (USD $70-90 per child), which encourages even the most vulnerable and economically challenged families to send their children to school.
Finally, in the area of livelihoods, the key objective has always been to ensure that skills trainings and other workshops including technical and vocational training courses are available to refugees so that they are equipped with the necessary skills to help rebuild their lives and their society when they voluntarily repatriate to their homeland. Importantly, such livelihoods activities including micro-enterprise (revolving fund) projects also benefit their host communities, as they enable refugees to contribute positively to society during their stay in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While often overshadowed by new humanitarian crises around the world, UNHCR Iran and BAFIA rely on the continuous support of the international community in assisting refugees, not only to meet their basic needs, but in realizing their goals and aspirations. Undoubtedly, the skills and experiences acquired by refugees through our projects throughout Iran will enable them to contribute to the rebuilding of their country of origin, when the situation permits their safe and dignified return.