October 17, 2019
Latest News
MEPs and the World

Bricks or pencils

 An Afghan migrant, who lives in Iran, works in a brick kiln at the Qasem abad village outside the city of Varamin, on September 14, 2016. (Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh EFE/EPA) 


An Afghan migrant, who lives in Iran, works in a brick kiln at the Qasem abad village outside the city of Varamin, on September 14, 2016. (Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh EFE/EPA)  

Teheran, Dec 1 (efe-epa).- Schooling is not a right for Afghan refugee children in Iran, home to three million refugees who fled unending conflict in Afghanistan. Many of these kids need to undertake precarious jobs, such as working in brick kilns, along with their parents.

Despite pressure to leave Iran and repatriation campaigns organized by agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Afghan refugees find it difficult to return to a country ravaged by a series of conflicts since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

In 2016, Afghanistan was ranked second in the world, in terms of the number of refugees it generated, Syria being the number one.

The UNHCR had recorded more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees, the vast majority in neighboring countries: there were one million of them in Iran, and 1.4 million in Pakistan. In Europe, Germany topped the list with a total of 43,000 Afghan refugees.

Education for children

However, there are another two million undocumented Afghan refugees in Iran.

Iranian authorities had launched schooling programs which allowed Afghan children, including those who did not hold a residence permit, to study and to regularize undocumented refugees and make residence requirements lenient.

“We want the children to be able to go to school, to have employment opportunities,” the European United Left-Nordic Green Left MEP, Cornelia Ernst, told EFE.

She was member of the European Union delegation, headed by Polish Januzs Lewandowski that visited Iran for one of the regular EU-Iran Inter-Parliamentary meetings.

The delegation visited one of the registration and health centers for Afghan refugees in Isfahan, in central part of the country, after the meetings.

The EU, which has been funding humanitarian projects in Iran since 1997, had allocated a sum amounting to 10 million euro through NGOs and UN agencies, to help Afghan refugees living in the country.

The aid was aimed at Afghan refugee children’s schooling, medical assistance and food security, as well as to help refugees pay for medical insurance premium and access legal advice.

At Isfahan health centre, MEPs checked the outpatient care conditions and had the opportunity to speak with Afghan doctors and nurses, as well as with the people in charge of the centre, run by the Iranian government and the UNHCR.

The Iranian government took steps to include all legal Afghan residents in the national health system, and vaccination campaigns for children, especially against polio, are held frequently. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries in the world where the disease is still endemic.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, issued a decree in 2015 to allow Afghans, both legal and illegal residents, to study in Iran’s government schools.

In 2016, nearly 48,000 undocumented Afghan children were enrolled in school for the first time, and the number of refugee children attending schools reached 400,000 in 2017.

Repatriation or integration

In 2002, Iran had initiated a voluntary repatriation program that would require the support of the international community and cooperation between the government, the UN, and donors.

In November 2017, the Iranian government urged the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, William Lacy Swing, who was visiting the country at the time, to help Afghans return to their home land.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, called on the international community to contribute to improve the security and economic situation in Afghanistan, and to prepare the refugees better for return to their country.

However, Cornelia Ernst did not consider Afghans’ repatriation to be a solution, as Afghanistan is not a safe country.

She was also of the opinion that it was necessary to improve their living conditions in Iran, as the issue of undocumented refugees in the country still remained “unresolved,” and Afghans continued to face major problems.

The undocumented refugees had as a limited access to means of subsistence and basic essential services.

Majority of them had no other alternative but to settle for small, unskilled and poorly paid jobs, such as construction workers or parking attendants. In Qasem Abad, on the outskirts of the city of Varamin, brick kilns workers earned $10 per day after working for 14 hours, and they have work only six months per year during hot weather.

Their access to the labour market is however facilitated by their freedom to choose the place of residence. Some 97 percent of Afghan refugees live in urban areas - with 33 percent of them in Tehran province - while only 3 percent live in refugee camps.

Inevitable comparisons with Europe

Poland’s Janusz Lewandowski, a member the European People's Party (EPP), welcomed Iran’s acceptance of Afghans as a “humanitarian measure in response to the human disaster in Afghanistan”.

“It is a good step to back refugees in Iran. We want to help. But we don’t think it would a good idea that all the refugees come to Europe,” Cornelia Ernst said.

Three million represents a staggering number of refugees in Iran, and more so, if the Iranian revolution in 1979, war with Iraq (1980-1988) and years of international economic embargo, witnessed by the country during the last four decades, are taken into account.

Comparisons with Europe were inevitable during the parliamentarian delegation’s visit to Iran between Nov. 25 and 27, 2017, and the delegation also held talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and President of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran, Ali Larijani.

A member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament (S & D), Flavio Zanonato, admitted to EFE that the welcome extended by Iran was “positive” and the number of refugees that the country has played host to, is much higher than Europe.

“Refugees, asylum seekers, arrive in such numbers in Iran that we cannot even imagine in Europe. In Italy, there are 250,000 refugees and we already say that it is disproportionate while there are three million over here,” added Zanonato.

By Marina Villén

Translated by Meena Gupta Seth



"The project was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information for opinions expressed in the context of this project. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the project."

News history
Descent into the Lybian quagmire

A group of Euro-parliamentarians has arrived in Libya, six years after the last European Parliament's fact-finding mission. Their task is to revive a...

EU's election observation missions: 25 years of experience

It was 25 years ago that the European Union sent its first election observation mission to a nascent post-Soviet Russia. Now, the EU sets aside 38 million...

Guinean Mosques join forces with EU, UN to end the scourge of clitoral ablation

Clitoral ablation in Guinea Conakry is a traditional practice affecting 90 percent of Guinean women and has forced international Aid organizations to seek...

EU Mission applauds El Salvador's electoral transparency, suggests improvements

The European Union's Election Observation Mission deployed in El Salvador congratulated the Salvadorian people after Sunday's calm and orderly elections...

EU Mission calls for inclusive dialogue in Honduras, opposition criticizes EU report

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to the Honduran 2017 elections on Saturday called for the establishment of an inclusive national...

EU-funded school flourishes where Albanian bunkers were once made

A school built with EU money now stands at the site where thousands of tonnes of concrete were produced to fulfill the fever dreams of Albania’s...

EU lawmakers visit Bangladesh camps, call for more efforts to help Rohingyas

Members of the European Parliament have called for increased efforts in dealing with the Rohingya crisis, after learning about the appalling conditions in...

A school for refugees in Lebanon

Kawkab School stands in the middle of the narrow streets of Beddawi refugee camp in North Lebanon. It is a safe haven for children who dream of a better life.

EU and Chile looking for the perfect agreement

The European Union and Chile would like to improve on their association agreement, which in 15 years has resulted in the doubling of trade volumes between...

Swallows Fortress protects against the slip into oblivion of the Armenian Genocide

For the last century, the Armenian people have struggled to earn global recognition of the genocide they suffered during and in the aftermath of World War...

The country of stones

The Armenians call their homeland "the country of stones." In a country with very little arable land, treasures such as tisane herbs and dry fruits are...

Bread, peace and roses

Marina decided to leave her home when her husband, a Montenegro policeman, asked her to decide whom he should beat up that day: her little daughter or her....

What's left in common

Almost a year after Donald Trump's arrival in the White House, lawmakers of the United States and the European Union reviewed what is left in common,...

It is too early to proclaim election results in Honduras,  Matias says

The incumbent president of Honduras is set to be re-elected by a margin of 52,347 votes, while the opposition candidate has challenged 5,179 tally sheets....

Afghan refugees’ children have no right to schooling in Iran

Schooling is not a right for Afghan refugee children in Iran, home to three million refugees who fled unending conflict in Afghanistan. Many of these kids...

Civic responsibility and peace in the Honduran elections

With "a sense of civic responsibility and peace, within a system that felt democratic". That's how the voting in the Honduras general elections was...

EU mission to monitor Honduran election: Our task is just to observe, listen

Our task is just to "observe and listen." The head of the European Parliament's delegation at the tenth general elections in Honduras describes the role of...

Common policy and Marshall Plan: key to European strategy against China in Africa

A unified EU policy, security and a 'Marshall Plan' were the key points highlighted by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, during...

Latin America lagging behind on women’s rights

Imprisoned for having an abortion, forced to keep a child born out of rape, pushed to commit suicide: women still pay a heavy price in Latin America, where...

EU concerned about displacement of migration and contraband in Libya

The European Union is growing increasingly concerned with the threat posed by Libyan organised criminal groups involved in trafficking migrants and the...

I agree Welcome to news4europe.eu. We use cookies to improve your online experience. Find out more.