1144 GMT January 22, 2020
Iran has been hosting Afghan and Iraqi refugees over the past 29 years. The first wave of Afghan refugees entered Iran in 1972 following the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union. The second wave of Afghan refugees arrived Iran in 1994 during the Taliban rule.
Iraqi refugees crossed over to the northwest of Iran as Iraq became entangled in various conflicts.
According to reports released by United Nations, Iran has the sixth largest refugees population in the world.
Currently, over one million refugees live in Iran, of whom three percent live in cities which are facing crises in supplying food.
Unemployment, high fertility rate and large families, diseases and aging among refugee populations have created problems for them.
World Food Program (WFP) intends to end hunger in children, women and the elderly, fight micronutrient deficiencies and reduce chronic hunger across various countries.
Persian daily 'Iran' interviewed WFP Representative in Iran Negar Gerami to learn more about the agency's support for refugees in Iran. Excerpts follow:
IRAN: Eradication of poverty and malnutrition are major goals of WFP. What is WFP's program in Iran?
Is your goal to remove hunger among children? Who receives the food distributed by WFP?
NEGAR GERAMI: WFP's mission is to bring hunger to zero worldwide. Refugees are our target group in Iran. Afghan and Iraqi refugees, who have migrated to Iran and have been housed in settlements known as 'mehmanshahr'or 'mihmanshahr', receive food aid.
In fact, refugees receive non-food aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and food aid from WFP.
However, we help a country when it faces crises such as earthquake. For example, we were among first organizations to come to Bam following the earthquake to distribute international aid, particularly food, to the survivors for three months.
Fortunately, Iran is a green country in normal conditions and it doesn't need international aid.
Do you mean UN protocols regarding WFP only pertain to food aid for refugees?
Undeveloped countries are major receivers of WFP aid.
Iran is among developing nations and it has high oil revenues.
Given our indices, Iran is not subject to WFP assistance.
Who are your target groups?
Those who are vulnerable. Children and women are usually more vulnerable.
What is your assessment of refugees' access to food in Iran?
Our target group in Iran includes 30,000 Afghan and Iraqi refugees who live in 19 mehmanshahrs and they don't pay any rent for housing.
We frequently visit these settlements and evaluate the livelihood and food situation of refugees.
We evaluate food security of the refugees in cooperation with Interior Ministry.
Afghans have big families. When family members are more than five and only one person is the breadwinner, we say they are more vulnerable. We distribute food baskets among them.
How often are food baskets distributed?
We distribute food baskets every month. Every refugee has a quota which includes flour, rice, oil, cereals and sugar.
Sometimes we substitute cereals for soy or rice for pasta.
Although we work in an international organization, we try to secure the foodstuff from the host country.
Moreover, Iran produces high-quality pasta and soy.
What are the major cities hosting Afghan refugees?
Mehmanshahrs are located in 13 provinces. Iraqi Kurds and Arabs live in the west and southwest including Khuzestan and Bushehr.
Afghan refugees have been settled in the east of Iran.
These settlements have embraced the refugees for more than 20 years.
Close to 30 years ago, the first wave of refugees who entered Iran, were settled in border areas. Currently they live in areas allocated to them by the Interior Ministry.
We see many Afghan refugees in the suburbs of Tehran. How does the WFP provide for them?
We don’t assist refugees who live in the suburbs of Tehran. Saveh has the mehmanshahr closest to Tehran. It is also the biggest with 5,000 refugees.
How do you extend help to refugees in these settlements?
Currently, we consider foodstuff for one refugee on the basis of calories. There is a warehouse which stocks foodstuff for three-month consumption in every mehmanshahr.
Refugees receive their food quota from the first to the tenth of each month. The quota includes 10kg of flour, four kilograms of rice and two kilograms of cereals.
The houses for refugees in mehmanshahrs are made of mud-brick and brick.
Every mehmanshahr has a health center for refugees. In addition, there is a bathhouse in these settlements. They have access to piped water.
What is the biggest challenge facing the WFP in Iran?
Our biggest challenge is meeting financial resources. Our budget is totally secured from voluntary assistance.
How much fund does WFP allocate annually to ensure the food security of refugees?
Our annual budget stands at $4 million.
Do you also mitigate global crises such as those in Sudan and Mali from your budget?
Yes. WFP budget stood at $6 billion in 2016, of which $4 million was allocated to the WFP office in Iran.
Please tell us more about the voluntary assistance.
Our funds are not used for disseminating information and publishing brochures.
Therefore, we ask the media to do this for us free of charge.
Also, we are in touch with volunteers via social networks.
State assistance makes up the highest amount of voluntary aid. Cash assistance is deposited into the UN account to secure the food baskets.