Schooling for All Afghan Refugee Children in Iran

Schooling for All Afghan Refugee Children in Iran Schooling for All Afghan Refugee Children in Iran

The process for registration of refugee children in schools has been facilitated and all doors are open, “so there is no reason for any concern”, said Shahin Noushabadi, deputy head of the Education Ministry’s Center for International Affairs and Overseas Schools.

“The protocol on registering refugee children, mostly Afghans, was issued in early July opening the way for all refugees, even those without identity cards, to enroll,” she told Mehr News Agency.

The official was allaying concerns raised in various news outlets that there might be a shortage of classrooms in certain grades for refugee children.

“This problem does not exist in all municipal districts around the country and only in 10 areas where the density of refugee population is high it may arise, but the Education Ministry is doing its best to accommodate the students in the existing facilities,” she said.

There are currently 100,000 schools under the auspices of the ministry, and refugee students have been enrolled in 25,000 of them, where they study alongside Iranian children.

There are 386,000 refugee students in Iranian schools, among whom 360,000 are of Afghan origin. The remaining 26,000 are from 17 different nationalities, including Iraqis. The number increases by an average of 10% per year.

“Every year, we build new schools in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in areas where there is school shortage,” Noushabadi said.

So far, 15 schools have been constructed. Educating refugees costs the Iranian government a total of 800 billion rials ($23 million) annually. The UNHCR funds only 30-40 billion rials ($860,000-$1 million) of the amount.

“The UNHCR has promised to increase its contribution this year, but such funds go to building new schools, and all refugee families are expected to provide other items including uniforms, reading material and stationary, insurance premium, and payment for school transport,” the official noted.

These expenses are not part of the tuition fee (covered by the government), and are collected in all schools.

 Education-Purpose-Only Cards

According to Noushabadi, nearly 85%-95% of refugee students have identity cards. These students must apply for the education-purposes-only cards that are issued by the Interior Ministry’s centers for registration and administrative affairs of refugees in the 31 provinces.

The new cards have been added to the list of valid documents to be provided for school enrollment, and are legally binding on the Education Ministry.

In May, the Cabinet passed a bill to amend the bylaw on Education Regulations for Foreign Nationals that will facilitate the enrollment, in particular of refugees, in Iranian schools.

The move came following the Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei’s order in April 2015 on all schools to enroll Afghan children regardless of their legal status, underlining that no Afghan, including undocumented or illegal refugees, should be deprived of public education.

So far about 52,000 children with no identity documents have applied for such cards, and the deadline has been extended to the last day before the new academic year (September 23).

She emphasized that “although there are infrastructural inadequacies in certain regions and districts, the ministry is trying to make sure no refugee child is left behind.”

“As of now, 360,693 Afghan children are officially registered in Iranian schools across the 31 provinces and are charged a tuition fee of 1.2-3.6 million rials ($35-$104) according to the educational level,” Khalilollah Babaloo, head of the Center for International Affairs and Overseas Schools, had said earlier.

Tehran, Khorasan Razavi, Isfahan, Qom, Fars, Alborz, and Kerman provinces have the highest number of Afghan students.

Iran continues to host one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations in the world, despite the voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of Afghan (and Iraqi) refugees to their countries of origin over the past decade.

Most Afghans fled to Iran either after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, or following the Afghan civil war in the 1990s and the US-led invasion in 2001. During these decades Iran was home to nearly four million Afghan refugees - the largest refugee population in the world.

During a visit to Tehran in April, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner George Okoth-Obbo said there are 960,000 documented Afghan refugees in Iran, but the number of unregistered Afghans far exceeds that number: about 3 million.