Iran's 'exemplary' refugee hosting efforts praised by UN

Iran has sheltered approximately three million Afghans for almost four decades, a success story international officials say is ‘not told enough’

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Iran, one of the states targeted by Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, has been praised by the UN for the way it has cared for millions of refugees. 

The Soviet War in Afghanistan displaced six million people to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan in 1979. Almost four decades later, the Tehran government still shelters around one million registered Afghans, and up to two million are thought to also be living in the country - making Iran home to the world’s fourth largest refugee population. 

“The leadership demonstrated by the Iranian government has been exemplary in hosting refugees and keeping borders open,” Sivanka Dhanapala, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Tehran, told AFP on Wednesday. 

“It's a story that's not told often enough.”

The remarks come as Mr Trump’s administration tries to resuscitate its travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, and halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

The new ban - which could affect the one million Iranian nationals living and studying in the US - was slapped down on Wednesday by a federal court in Hawaii on the grounds it could cause “irreparable injury.”

While Afghans resident in Iran - especially those who are undocumented - are often marginalised to the fringes of society as poorly paid manual workers, and are not allowed to apply for citizenship, the Tehran government has also recently taken positive steps such as ordering schools to take in all Afghan children, and embarked on a health insurance scheme that covers refugees. 

The UN is fostering hopes that the country will ease work permit restrictions and register more undocumented Afghans in the future.

They are unlikely to return home voluntarily as Afghanistan becomes more unstable that it has been in years and its economy continues to stagnate. Worldwide, the average amount of time a refugee spends outside their home country is 20 years. 

“In a world where you have multiple bad stories about hosting refugees, I think Iran is really a good news story,” Mr Dhanapala added.