Since 2012, the vast majority of Afghan refugee population, according to the UN, lived in Pakistan and Iran, with roughly 1.7 million registered in Pakistan and around one million registered in Iran. Since 2013, at least half a million or so had been given other forms of temporary status in Iran.

Human Rights Watch report ‘Unwelcome Guests, Iran’s Violation of Afghan Refugee and Migrant Rights’ (2013) documented how Iran has been detaining and/or deporting asylum seekers with no due process. Reported violations included and not limited to physical abuse, detention in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, forced labour and forced separation of families have been documented as well as limited access to education.

Particularly worrying are Iranian security forces abuses against unaccompanied and separated migrant children who travel without parents or guardians. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission highlighted that they interviewed 2,000 such children during the year of 2011 alone. IRIN has highlighted that child deportees are considered prone to sexual exploitation and physical abuse immediately after their expulsion from Iran. They were bought on by the lack of money they have to cover things like food, shelter and the transport to reach their destinations.

It is also not unlikely to hear that some children deported back to Afghanistan have never been there before. Some were deported without their parent’s knowledge. Hamed Mardan of UNICEF highlighted that “these children were born in Iran and brought up there. They don’t know the place they’ve been deported to, and are therefore very vulnerable”. Iran’s practices subsequently violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Tensions to rise?

Iran has come under much scrutiny recently when they threatened in September to expel hundreds and thousands of Afghans without allowing them to have their asylum claims considered. Not only does this highlight that Iran’s asylum policies are far from adequate enough to comply with international law, but it also highlights the two state tension between Afghanistan and Iran – something that has been shaky since Afghans started to migrate in the 70’s to flee communism.

What’s more? Afghanistan is undoubtedly unable to deal with returning refugees and migrants due to the ever deteriorating economic and security situation. It has been reported that in the first six months of 2013, armed conflict and lack of security paved way for the number of internally displaced people to increase to 106,000. This is pushing the figure up to over 583,000 in total.

Insecurity in the region together with the decline in international investment in the country may only push the country into further decline post 2014 full withdrawal of forces. It is unlikely that Afghanistan will be able to cope with thousands more being forced back into the country, should Iran push its deportations.

Is there Hope for the Refugees in Iran?

The newly-formed national unity Government will indeed hopefully demonstrate commitment to creating an enabling environment for sustainable returns, however the UNHCR argues that the withdrawal of international security forces, as well as a complex economic transition are likely to affect peace, security and development in Afghanistan, ultimately affecting those returning to the country.

Currently, there is no national asylum and refugee legislation in Afghanistan, so UNHCR is conducting refugee status determination (RSD). A draft national refugee and asylum law, prepared with UNHCR assistance, is awaiting inclusion in the 2015 legislation agenda, according to the UNHCR

It is for the international arena to condemn the actions of Iran against Afghan asylum seekers and migrants and to impose pressure on both governments to work together in finding a unified response to the refugee crisis. Only through dialogue and joint commitment to international law can we see a change in policy and practice.

I guess we can only wait to see what happens in 2015…