Civil and military conflicts in neighbouring countries have surrounded Iran ever since its own war with Iraq came to an end in the late 1980s. Although the resource-rich country was able to recover from the war with Iraq, the continuous influx of refugees, especially from Afghanistan and Iraq, required international assistance.
In 2002, a tripartite agreement was signed between the governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), outlining a four-year repatriation programme for Afghan refugees. According to the latest UNHCR reports, since the beginning of the Joint Programme for Voluntary Repatriation of Afghan Refugees and Displaced Persons in April 2002, the total number of Afghans who returned from Iran with UNHCR assistance is about 900,000. Many Afghans remain in Iran due to lack of peace, stability and resources in their home country.
Today, 950,000 Afghans and 50,000 Iraqi refugees live in Iran representing a burden on the local economy. In line with repatriation policy, the government limited areas where refugees can reside to certain parts of the country. Meanwhile, heavy fines for employers have discouraged companies and individuals from hiring refugees as casual labourers.
Moreover, in December 2010, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran implemented its economic reform plan and lifted blanket subsidies for fuel, water, electricity and wheat flour, from which refugees used to benefit and replaced it with targeted cash assistance to vulnerable Iranians only. This inevitably increased the living costs for refugees making them more dependent on UN assistance until they are repatriated.
In Iran, WFP aims to address the basic food needs of refugees, strengthen their coping mechanisms and support their efforts to achieve food security through a prolonged relief and recovery operation. Currently, 950,000 Afghans and 50,000 Iraqi refugees still live in Iran in areas designated by the government.
WFP is currently providing food assistance to some 30,000 Iraqi and Afghan refugees living in 18 settlements located in the designated areas in 12 different Iranian provinces. Refugees receive a 14 kg monthly basket of staple food items such as wheat flour, rice, pulses, sugar and vegetable oil. The food basket provides each person with an average of 1,738 kcal per day covering a significant 83 percent of a person’s minimum daily requirement.
WFP also provides an additional monthly take-home ration of vegetable oil as an education incentive to some 3,000 primary and secondary refugee schoolgirls and their female teachers. This intervention aims to stabilise girls’ enrolment rates in primary schools as well as increase enrolment and reduce drop-out rates among girls in secondary schools. The additional ration encourages families to send their girls to school and has significantly reduced the gap between the enrolment rate of girls and boys from 30 percent in 1999 to 12.5 percent in 2007.
Joint Monitoring visits by WFP, UNHCR and the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign. Immigrants (BAFIA) are conducted twice a year in all 18 settlements where refugees reside. These visits aim to ensure that refugees have access to adequate quantity and quality of food besides monitoring food storage, handling and distribution and ensuring it is in line with WFP standards.
In July 2012, WFP and UNHCR conducted a Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) to ensure that food security and refugees’ food-related requirements are adequately addressed throughout the on-going operation as well as to envisage future WFP activities in Iran.