TEHRAN (Dispatches) – Iran, one of the states targeted by Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, is a country from which the U.S. could learn a lot on the resettlement of refugees, the UN has said.
The Soviet War in Afghanistan displaced six million people to neighboring Iran and Pakistan in 1979. Almost four decades later, the Tehran government still shelters around one million registered Afghans, and up to two million are thought to also be living in the country - making Iran home to the world’s fourth largest refugee population.
"The leadership demonstrated by the Iranian government has been exemplary in hosting refugees and keeping borders open,” Sivanka Dhanapala, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Tehran, said on Wednesday.
"It's a story that's not told often enough.”
The remarks come as Trump’s administration tries to resuscitate its travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, and halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
The new ban - which could affect the one million Iranian nationals living and studying in the U.S. - was slapped down on Wednesday by a federal court in Hawaii on the grounds it could cause "irreparable injury.”
It was ironic, Dhanapala noted, that Iranians could be barred from the U.S. while continuing to deal with the human fallout of the American conflict with the Soviet Union.
The Tehran government has recently taken positive steps such as ordering schools to take in all Afghan children, and embarked on a health insurance scheme that covers refugees.
"We’ve also worked with the government on incorporating refugees into a government-sponsored health insurance scheme which is a ground-breaking development not just for Iran but globally for refugees,” Dhanapala said.
The UN is fostering hopes that the country will ease work permit restrictions and register more undocumented Afghans in the future.
They are unlikely to return home voluntarily as Afghanistan becomes more unstable that it has been in years and its economy continues to stagnate. Worldwide, the average amount of time a refugee spends outside their home country is 20 years.
"In a world where you have multiple bad stories about hosting refugees, I think Iran is really a good news story,” Dhanapala added.
The UN official hailed a 2015 decree by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, which called on education administrators to allow all Afghan children -- documented or not -- to attend Iranian schools.
The directive prompted Iranian officials to build 15,000 new classrooms across the country to accommodate refugee children in the country, which, according to UN estimates, has the world’s fourth largest refugee population.
More than 350,000 Afghan refugee children are now in school in Iran while some 48,000 undocumented Afghan children were allowed last year to enroll for the first time in Iranian public schools.
According to Samad Haj Jabbari, the director general for non-Iranian university students at the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, 24,000 foreign students are currently studying in Iranian universities.