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Iran: NGO difficulties belie official welcome

Briefing notes

Iran: NGO difficulties belie official welcome

2 December 2003

In Iran, almost all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) assisting refugees have experienced grave difficulties in recent months, caught up between official statements of welcome and the daily reality of administrative obstacles erected in their paths. Despite repeated attempts, many NGOs have seen their applications to obtain the necessary work permits stymied. Some agencies have not had their work plans endorsed by the government's NGO Committee - a prerequisite to operate in the country - despite decades of experience in international relief and refugee assistance. Endless administrative formalities have put off even the most experienced aid groups. Even more worrying is that some NGOs recently had to discontinue their activities following serious pressure and difficulties faced by their staff. More than half the NGOs that were working with us earlier this year have now left the country. These problems have arisen despite official declarations welcoming NGOs and requests for them to work in Iran.

UNHCR has expressed our deep concerns to the government on several occasions and we are doing what we can to assist the very few NGOs remaining in their work for refugees. If the situation is not resolved soon, our ability to complement the government's assistance efforts will be seriously hampered.

Iran hosts one of the world's largest refugee populations, well in excess of one million people. But despite the high level of official governmental support, some key needs are not met through official channels. The assistance of various international NGOs is invaluable in our effort to help meet the needs of refugees there.