Minister Reprimands UNHCR for Neglecting Afghan Plight

Minister Reprimands UNHCR for Neglecting Afghan Plight Minister Reprimands UNHCR for Neglecting Afghan Plight

Providing free medical services to more than three million Afghan refugees in Iran has imposed a heavy financial burden on the government, said Health Minister Seyed Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, in a meeting with UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi in Tehran, on Saturday.

Iran has been a generous host to a large number of Afghan refugees for more than three decades. “Unfortunately, during the period, the UN and other human rights organizations failed to provide reasonable support” to the country’s endeavors, he told Grandi, IRNA reported.

From among the 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran, 1 million are legal residents, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “doesn’t even cover the costs of their healthcare, education and employment,” he complained.

Stating that there are signs normalcy could come about within a few years in Iraq, and therefore Iraqi refugees can return home, Hashemi said, “However, there is little hope for Afghanistan to become stable and secure in the near future and that’s why Afghan refugees don’t want to return to their country.”

Thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia have been displaced by wars and civil strife and in dire need of protection; the insecurity and instability in the Middle East has led to a growing number of refugees and massive displacement of civilians, namely women and children, he said.

As Muslim brethren, “we have a religious (not legal) obligation towards the Afghan refugees.” Also, in order to protect the health of Iranians “we have to provide basic health services including vaccination and other preventive medical services to them.”

In some cities like Saravan in Sistan-Baluchestan Province, Afghans are responsible for more than one-third of the infectious diseases, he pointed out.

Thanks to the implementation of the ‘Salamat’ medical insurance, legal Afghan refugees with valid ID cards have been brought under the national health insurance umbrella.

The insurance plan for the refugees has been developed by the Iran Health Insurance Organization, the Interior Ministry’s Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA), and the State Welfare Organization.

“But the support that the UNHCR has provided for health insurance of the refugees barely covers one-tenth of the costs,” he rued.

He urged the UN refugee agency to contribute to the implementation of the insurance plan, “otherwise we will face difficulties in sustaining the scheme.”

  Helping Young Refugees

Grandi welcomed the minister’s suggestion and said the matter will be perused and “I hope we can offer the necessary resources to support the insurance coverage of Afghans living legally in Iran.”

He praised Iran for its decades of effort in hosting and helping millions of refugees at great financial costs. He also noted that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan makes it very difficult for Afghans to go back. The priority now, he said, is helping young refugees.

On Friday, Grandi visited the Imam Khomeini Technical and Vocational Training Center in Qom. Officials at the center told the UN official that following the agreement signed between the center and UNHCR in 2011, it has provided vocational training to 970 refugees.

There are 138,000 refugees including 60,000 Afghans living in the pilgrimage city of Qom, 125 km southwest of Tehran.  Grandi was in Iran on a two-day official visit to Iran and also held meetings with other senior officials.

Iran is host to one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations in the world, mostly from neighboring Afghanistan. Wars, civil strife, poverty, joblessness, political turmoil and insecurity for more than three decades has resulted in a huge influx of Afghan refugees converging on Iran with many taking up low-paid jobs with little security.

Estimates show that over a decade and half ago, three million Afghans were legally residing in the country, besides 1-1.5 million non-registered refugees. Today, there are nearly one million registered Afghans living and working in the country.