Speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Mehdi Mahmoudi, Director General of Iranian Interior Ministry’s Bureau for Foreign Nationals and Immigrant Affairs, said Iran has hosted millions of foreign refugees and immigrants, mostly from Afghanistan, over the past four decades, noting that many Afghan citizens continue to live illegally or without proper residency documentation.
Over 90 percent of refugees living in Iran originate from Afghanistan while the rest have made their entry via other bordering nations, added Mahmoudi, who also said some foreign immigrants choose routes used by human traffickers to cross the borders in the hope of making it to Europe, but fail and eventually get deported to their country of origin.
He described a number of factors including the foreign invasion of Afghanistan as a key contributor to the Afghan refugee spillover, and said such issues only add to the number of immigrants seeking refuge in Iran.
The Interior Ministry official went on to warn about illegal entry into Iran, saying that not carrying legal travel documents amounts to a crime and the culprits will face detention and deportation.
Mahmoudi further clarified that immigrants entering Iran in search of asylum will have a chance to continue their education and find employment.
He said, however, that such efforts by Iran will accommodate foreign refugees until their countries of origin find peace and stability for them to return; their residency status will not be permanent.
The director general of the Iranian Interior Ministry’s Bureau for Foreign Nationals and Immigrant Affairs asked Afghan authorities to cooperate with Iran and relevant international organizations on the implementation of a volunteer program for those refugees who favor returning home.
A number of international refugee advocacy institutions and groups actively assist in immigrant affairs but these efforts need further financial and logistical support, Mahmoudi said.
Regarding the effects of anti-Iran sanctions on the daily lives of refugees, the official said that rising inflation rates have also negatively impacted refugee revenues and hence their standard of living.
He made reference to the hypocrisy of certain countries that claim advocacy for refugees and said these nations need to devise ways to channel funds through international aid groups to refugees and help ameliorate their woes.
Mahmoudi said international relief organizations also need to have a stronger presence in Iran as the country is dealing with an overwhelming number of foreign immigrants who cannot even ponder relocation to their countries of origin due to the unrelenting violence and conflict there.