Refugees in Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is host to one of the largest and most protracted urban refugee situations in the world and has provided asylum to refugees for over four decades. Forty-two years on since the 1979 Soviet invasion and the subsequent waves of violence, displacement from Afghanistan continues in the longest protracted refugee situation covered under UNHCR’s mandate. Nearly five million Afghans remain displaced outside of the country; of these, 90% are hosted by the Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Iran.

In Iran, thanks to the Government’s progressive and inclusive policies, refugees have been given access to education, health, and livelihoods opportunities – helping them thrive, not just survive. It is estimated that 99% of refugees in Iran live in cities, towns and villages side by side with the Iranian host community, while 1% live in 20 settlements managed by UNHCR’s main government counterpart, the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs (BAFIA) of the Ministry of Interior.

Newly arriving Afghan asylum-seekers are largely in urban settings, being supported by the in situ Afghan population, while a smaller number are being temporarily hosted in transit centers, while longer-term shelter solutions are being explored by the Government, UNHCR and humanitarian partners. 

The Government of Iran is responsible for refugee registration and status determination. The legal status of refugees is defined by two international instruments: the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Islamic Republic of Iran acceded to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol on 28 July 1976, with reservations to Article 17 (wage-earning employment), Article 23 (public relief), Article 24 (labour legislation and social security) and Article 26 (freedom of movement). 

In 2022, only 376 refugees returned to Afghanistan and two returned to Iraq – a significant decrease explained by the deterioration of the security in Afghanistan. 

UNHCR continues to advocate for more third-country solutions for Afghan refugees. While in 2021 UNHCR Iran received no quota for resettlement of Afghan refugees, in 2022 it worked with resettlement partners and the Government of Iran to consider Afghan families in dire need of international protection for resettlement to third countries.

By the end of June 2022, the total number of people worldwide who were forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations was 103 million. This is more than double the 42.7 million people who remained forcibly displaced a decade ago and the most since World War II. 

The protection of refugees has many aspects. These include safety from being returned to danger, access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and measures to ensure that their basic human rights are respected while they secure a longer-term solution. UNHCR works around the clock to accomplish all of this, but we can’t do it alone. Your support helps us to continue providing life-saving protection to millions. Your support helps us to continue providing life-saving protection to millions.