Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)|
Most Afghans living in Iran for years - some for
decades - do not intend to go back home. While Afghans continue seeking refuge
in Iran, the country is organising forced returns back to Afghanistan.
Can you explain to us what MSF is doing in
Interview with Jean-Guy Vataux, Programme Director for MSF in Iran, on his
return from Zahedan.
Today, Iran hosts 900,000 legally registered Afghan refugees on its soil, and
more than 1.5 million Afghans without a legal status - a figure impossible to
verify. Most of them arrived in the early 80's, fleeing the war with the USSR.
Today they keep on arriving mostly for economic reasons, such as the draft that
affects several provinces in Afghanistan.
In 2001, MSF started to provide free health care to Afghan immigrants who had no
access to medical care, and provided new arrivals with some material aid to help
them settle down. We are now working in three health centres in the poor
neighbourhoods of Zahedan, capital of Sistan Baluchistan province. We have also
set up a referral system for patients who need to be admitted into hospital or
who need to consult a specialist.
A mobile team seeks out people who are newly arrived to provide them with aid,
as they are more vulnerable on a medical, social and economic basis. In this
town, located near the Pakistan and Afghan border, one third of its 600.000
inhabitants are supposed to be of Afghan origin.
How can Iran absorb this migration flow?
For several years, authorities have been worrying about the great number of
immigrants in their country. Their first response was to promote voluntary
returns, but they then adopted a more aggressive policy by escorting people back
to the border. In 2007, more than 350,000 illegal Afghan immigrants were forced
to go back to their country, where the economic and security situation remains
In the past five months, at least 150.000 people, mostly men, have been sent
back to Afghanistan. Zahedan has been declared a 'no-go' area for foreigners, as
have all other regions bordering Afghanistan. Claiming insecurity, suspicion of
terrorist activity, and trafficking of all kinds, Iranian authorities now forbid
foreigners to stay in that part of the country.
To keep benefiting from their status, legal immigrants have to renew their
residence permits and then move to other areas of the country, where there is no
structure able to cater for them. Although authorities officially grant them
this renewal, they are very discrete about the process and provide few means to
carry it out.
In order to stay in Zahedan or in other forbidden provinces, we fear that many
legal Afghan refugees fall into an illegal status, which would expose them to
raids and forced returns. Recently, authorities have indeed announced a massive
operation to escort people back to the border, but commit themselves not to
expel patients suffering from chronic diseases whom we take care of.
Do other actors provide aid to these populations?
"One would think so, taking into account that Iran 'absorbs' a great deal of the
total number of Afghan refugees abroad with 900,000 officially recognised
refugees, not to mention those residing illegally who are far more numerous.
Yet, Iranian authorities handle, almost alone, the influx of immigrants into
Whereas international funding agencies have promised US$ 20 million in
assistance to help reconstruct Afghanistan, Afghan refugees still receive very
Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is an
international humanitarian aid organisation that provides emergency medical
assistance to populations in danger in more than 70 countries.
... Payvand News - 07/31/08 ... --
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