BAFIA Reports on Healthcare, Education for Afghan Refugees

BAFIA Reports on Healthcare, Education for Afghan Refugees  BAFIA Reports on Healthcare, Education for Afghan Refugees

Over the past Iranian year (ended 19 March) nearly 270,000 Afghans were covered by the national health insurance plan and 2,590 patients with special diseases benefited from insurance services. In addition, over 380,000 Afghan immigrant children attended Iranian schools.  

The managing director of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants (BAFIA) talked about the numbers in a meeting with IRNA while reporting the performance of his bureau in the last calendar year that ended on March 19.

Ahmad Mohammadifar said last year three schools were built for foreign refugees in Fars, Semnan and Qazvin provinces and measures have been taken to facilitate entry of Afghan immigrants into universities in the country.

 “Iran managed to get 70 billion rials ($2.28 million) from the United Nations refugee agency for the Afghans,” living in Iran, he added.

Many Afghans have applied for citizenship in Iran and are awaiting the results. “Last year, 317 citizenship dossiers were reviewed and referred to the Foreign Ministry for completion,” the official said. He did not specify whether or not the applicants had got a positive response.

Mohammadifar also referred to the 10th Amayesh scheme, which was provided for 870 Afghan immigrants, as another major move by the bureau.

  Refugee Registration Scheme

The government has created a special system to monitor and register the entry of Afghans. BAFIA undertakes the reregistration periodically of refugees under the ‘Amayesh (refugee registration) Scheme,’ by which they are provided Amayesh cards that enable them access to basic services and also facilitate the issuance of work permits.

The scheme obliges refugees to visit the BAFIA each year in order to renew their IDs. Therefore, in the case of any change in their legal status such as marriage, childbirth or death, the information is registered in their personal data.

For instance, if the foreign national joins a university, his/her refugee card becomes void and they must obtain residency permit.

Despite the repatriation of large numbers of Afghan refugees, there are still a million legally registered Afghans living in Iran. Besides nearly 1 million to 1.5 million non-registered Afghans live and work in Iran. Joint and systemic efforts continue by the government and the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, for their voluntary repatriation home or to any other country willing to take them. But the efforts have been futile because the refugees are unwilling to return citing the unstable conditions in Afghanistan, the almost four-decade-old civil war, poverty, joblessness and the role of terrorist groups and the hardline medieval militias.

According to the last 9th Amayesh refugee reregistration program there were 979,410 refugees in Iran (951,142 Afghan and 28,268 Iraqi).

  Dysfunctional UNHCR

Over the course of the year, the organizational structure of BAFIA was also upgraded so as to “empower the bureau and help it better interact with countries in the region and beyond.”

Among other measures taken by the bureau was preparing a brochure about Iran’s one-year services for the refugees sent to relevant organizations in and outside the country, namely the UN refugee agency.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for protecting and supporting refugees across continents. Its Executive Committee meets in Geneva annually to review and approve the agency’s programs and budget, advice on international protection and discuss a wide range of other issues with UNHCR and its intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.

However, the agency has come under growing criticism by governments and NGOs for its poor performance and corruption in several countries. For instance Tehran has almost always believed that the refugee agency is dysfunctional and has never done its fair share with respect to the millions of immigrants living in Iran for the past four decades.  

It has also said that due to its apparent US tutelage the UNHCR has hardly given Iran the help, acknowledgment and credit it rightly deserves for hosting millions of Afghans, Iraqis and others, especially during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. Tehran has always said that it wants the refugees to leave sooner than later.

Numerous reports of corruption over the past few years have led to a decline in UNHCR international funding. Instances include misappropriating allocated funds to distribute huge amounts of money to non-refugees, such as in the recent case of a field study that would benefit Syrian refugees, as well as UNHCR employees in Nairobi indulging in bribery to grant refugees permanent resettlement in third-world countries, and relief organizations stealing from financial and material aid intended to be distributed to Gaza Strip residents.

There was also evidence of utter extravagance, represented by excessive wages earned by some of the foreign employees who occupy high positions in most aid organizations funded by the UNHCR. The sale of aid, particularly medical aid to pharmacies, in addition to price fraud and unfair distribution of food aid that comes in the form of vouchers or cash are only instances of several other infractions committed by those administering aid.

  Repatriation Efforts

Referring to the activities of the BAFIA, the official said “At Iran’s suggestion, last year’s UNHCR meeting was centered on Afghan immigrants where the Iranian delegation stressed the importance of the immigrants’ voluntary repatriation with their honor preserved.”

To encourage refugees to voluntarily return to their countries, BAFIA organized events such as the festival of Afghanistan.

There is no exact and precise data available on the number of Afghan nationals in Iran. According to the Interior Ministry, 2.5 million Afghans reside in Iran of which only one million have proper documents and 450,000 have passports. An estimated one million refugees are living and working in Iran illegally.  

The crossing of Afghans through the borders of Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchestan provinces has declined in recent years due to the better securing of borders, but they still continue to arrive illegally through the Pakistan and Baluchistan.

Most Afghans took refuge in Iran either after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the early 1980s, or following the Afghan civil war in the 1990s and the US-led invasion in 2001. During these decades Iran was host to nearly four million Afghan refugees.