Iran has the largest healthcare programme for...
Iran, has been praised by the UN for the way it has cared for millions of refugees. “The leadership demonstrated by the Iranian government has been exemplary in hosting refugees and keeping borders open, in a world where you have multiple bad stories about hosting refugees, I think Iran is really a good news story,” Mr Dhanapala added.
In his recent interview with the Tehran Times, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tehran has praised Iran for providing very affordable healthcare services for refugees. The following is the summary of the interview.
Q: What strategy has UNHCR taken to shelter Afghan refugees in the world in general?
A: UNHCR has certain responsibilities upon the arrival of refugees in a host country; this includes meeting their basic needs and providing them with shelter. It differs depending on the situation. In times of crisis or displacement, a core part of our protection mission is to guarantee access to adequate shelter. Delivering protection and humanitarian assistance for refugees settled / sheltered in camps is common in some operations.
In Iran, we are proud that only less than 3 % live in settlements, however UNHCR supports and complements the efforts of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in some targeted settlements, and by providing some support to renovate communal infrastructures. Examples of such interventions include electricity, water or gas connection.
Q: It is not just Afghan refugees, but also Iraqis who have found shelter in Iran from their war-stricken countries. What has UNHCR done to help Iran provide better facilities such as health benefits and education for refugees and their children?
A: As for Afghans and Iraqis, Iran hosts some 950,000 registered Afghan and 29,000 Iraqi refugees. These are individuals who are recognized as refugees by the government of Iran and UNHCR and hold Amayesh cards.
UNHCR in Iran is very grateful for the protection and assistance that the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided to refugees for now over 35 years.
The Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affaires (BAFIA) of the Ministry of Interior is UNHCR’s main governmental counterpart in Iran with regard to refugee affairs in Iran with whom we have built very good working relations.
Our main interventions are in the areas of health, education, and livelihoods in an effort to improve access to services for refugees.
In regard to health, the Islamic Republic of Iran is rendering free of charge primary healthcare services to all refugees. In addition, Iran has set a global precedent by opening the access of all refugees into its Salamat Universal Public Health Insurance (UPHI) which provides health insurance services similar to that of Iranian nationals.
In the area of education, refugee children have access to education and over 360,000 refugee children study side by side with Iranian children. As one of its major contributions, UNHCR supports the government through construction of co-funded schools, benefiting both refugees and host communities in areas with high refugee population. Additionally, UNHCR supports the Literacy Movement Organization (LMO) in their efforts to provide literacy-related services to refugee adults and over-aged children.
In the area of livelihoods, the government of Iran together with UNHCR strive towards ensuring that refugees gain access to vocational education and demand-driven skills so that they can earn a sustainable living and positively contribute to society during their stay in Iran and that they are equipped with the necessary skills to help rebuild their lives and their society when they voluntarily return to their homeland.
Q: Has UNHCR taken any initiatives for safe and voluntary refugee repatriation from Iran?
A: UNHCR continues to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Afghans and Iraqis to their respective countries of origin, although voluntary return has reduced over the years due to the increasing insecurity in Afghanistan and Iraq. The figure of 16,000 individuals that repatriated in 2012, has decreased to only 2,426 individuals in 2016.
Q: Will UNHCR provide volunteer positions for Iranian citizens to gain experience at UNHCR?
A: UNHCR Iran operation systematically posts several internship positions for its Programme, Protection, External Relations and Field units open to all Iranian citizen applicants. These internship positions, which are usually for a six month period, offer a unique opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge regarding the operation and its various projects and joint activities with the government.
Q: How much has your organization highlighted Iran’s services to Afghan refugees, especially free education for their children?
A: UNHCR believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been an exemplary host to refugees yet not enough is known to the international world. Hence, for more information sharing and awareness raising, UNHCR takes every opportunity - at international and national fora, conferences and meetings - to highlight the generosity and exemplary services rendered by Iran to refugees residing here; going from the United Nations Secretary General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and myself as the UNHCR Representative in Iran. We also use any advocacy tool, whether through Press Releases, interviews and organizing events among others so-on many more to reflect these laudable services and the kindness of the people of Iran for hosting such a large population of refugees now for more than three decades whilst highlighting that UNHCR contributions are very minimal in comparison to that of the government of Iran.
When the High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, was in Iran in June 2016, he noted that he was taken by surprise by the steadily growing volume of services rendered to refugees in Iran, and expressed hope international bodies would further assist refugees in Iran. He further stated that “the international community should be very grateful for Iran’s very high quality services to refugees.”