Islamic Republic of Iran


Operation: Opération: Islamic Republic of Iran



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
500,000 refugee students were enrolled in the 2020-2021 academic year in Iran, of whom around 130,000 were undocumented
32,238 people of concern received cash-based support to address the negative impacts of COVID-19
3,815 people of concern enrolled in accelerated education programmes
182 Afghan refugees facilitated for access to wage earning employment
114 facilitated departures for resettlement
7 educational facilities constructed or improved
90% of people of concern had access to primary, secondary and tertiary health care
2021 planning figures
500,000 school-aged children will be enrolled in primary and secondary education
220 people of concern whose files had been submitted for resettlement will depart for resettlement in 2021
100% of people of concern with an intention to return will be assisted to return voluntarily
95% of people of concern will have access to primary health care

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2020 800,064
2019 979,472
2018 979,476


[["Refugees",800025],["Asylum-seekers",34],["Returned refugees",5]]
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Islamic Republic of Iran

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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[76.76538033,97.24654417,98.75662219,98.91670641,99.86142491,118.92423858],"expenditure":[36.211779,35.12314787,27.87564296,28.82420805,36.49284481,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[76.76538033,97.24654417,98.75662219,98.91670641,99.86142491,118.92423858],"p2":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[36.211779,35.12314787,27.87564296,28.82420805,36.49284481,null],"p2":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

In 2020, Iran continued to face increasing socioeconomic challenges, which were compounded by COVID-19 and have had severe impacts on the protection space of refugees and their socioeconomic situation. With the rise in humanitarian needs amongst refugees, and the parallel increase in costs of goods and services, the Government of Iran subsequently faced increasing challenges in maintaining and sustaining its inclusive refugee policies. Nevertheless, refugees largely continued to benefit from such policies, particularly in terms of health, education and livelihoods. More international support and responsibility-sharing will be needed in 2021 to maintain this protection space, especially as the effects of the difficult year 2020 are likely to be mostly felt in 2021 and beyond. UNHCR’s Iran operation remained critically underfunded in 2020, with just 42% of funding received by the end of year. Significant support was received in the context of COVID-19, which allowed UNHCR to respond to the emergency; however substantial needs remained unmet in other sectors such as education, health and protection. Voluntary repatriation and resettlement were also delayed and/or interrupted due to a myriad of COVID-19-related reasons, including travel restrictions.

Population trends

In the absence of disaggregated data, UNHCR also registers people of concern who approach the Office for identification, assistance and/or referral to appropriate services and partners, in UNHCR’s registration database.

According to the latest data received from the Government of Iran, who is responsible for the registration of refugees, in October 2020, on which consultations are ongoing, 800,000 Amayesh and Hoviat cardholders (documents giving certain Afghans and Iraqis respectively de facto refugee protection) resided in Iran. Of these 780,000 were Afghan refugees and 20,000 were Iraqi. It is estimated that 96% of refugees live in urban areas, while 4% live in 20 refugee settlements managed by the Government across the country. Some 586,000 Afghans who hold Afghan family passports with Iranian visas also lived in Iran. Additionally, it is estimated that some 2.1 to 2.25 million undocumented Afghans live in Iran. Most Iraqi refugees reside in urban areas, while some 600 reside in 10 settlements.

By the end of 2020, only 947 (51% decrease compared to 2019) Afghan refugees voluntarily returned to their country of origin with UNHCR’s assistance, while no Iraqis returned. Of those, 29% were Afghan students who gave up their Amayesh cards in exchange for national passports, with which they will apply for Iranian student visas to remain in Iran. Some 534,000 undocumented Afghans have also returned spontaneously from Iran in 2020, a 138% increase compared to 2019. This is presumably due to loss in livelihoods in Iran linked with COVID-19.

Resettlement quotas also remained very limited for refugees in Iran. Only 120 resettlement spaces were granted for refugees in Iran, an all-time low since UNHCR started resettlements from Iran in 1999. In addition, due to the pandemic, no departures could take place between late February and early November 2020. Nonetheless, by maximizing a few months when the travel was allowed within the year, UNHCR was able to facilitate the departure of 114 individuals (30 families) for resettlement to Australia, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK, the majority of whom had already been accepted in 2019.

Key achievements

In 2020, UNHCR in Iran:
  • Supported the Ministry of Health and Medical Education with the procurement of essential medicines in 134 health posts, while also supporting the costs of essential health personnel in 26 health posts.
  • Ramped up its COVID-19 prevention and emergency response by airlifting and distributing 100 tonnes of medical aid.
  • Supported 32,238 individuals with cash-based assistance to address the negative economic impact of COVID-19.
  • Provided 10,991 refugee households with hygiene packages (soap, hand sanitizers, masks, and cleaning materials).
  • Covered the Universal Public Health Insurance premium for up to 100,000 of the most vulnerable refugees.
  • Co-funded construction of seven schools with the Ministry of Education to benefit 500,000 foreign national students, including 470,000 Afghans.
  • Supported 3,815 overage or out-of-school refugees with enrolment in literacy courses, facilitating their eventual re-entry into the formal educations system.
  • Provided technical and vocational training in more than 50 occupations to 2,068 refugees in 17 provinces in Iran.
  • Supported 36 refugee women to establish their own individual businesses, by providing business start-up equipment such a sewing machines and other material.
  • Created 182 job opportunities through the establishment or expansion of business workshops. 

Unmet needs

  • Although 100,000 of the most vulnerable refugees received free access to Universal Public Health Insurance, the needs of some 250,0000 vulnerable refugees who fall under Government’s vulnerability criteria remained unmet.
  • In 2020, only seven school constructions were possible due to increases in the costs of construction materials linked to economic challenges in Iran. The overall need for school constructions in refugee-hosting areas, as highlighted in the 2020-2021 project portfolio of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), however remained significantly higher at 85 schools. 
  • Out of the total of 6,000 people of concern in need of livelihoods opportunities in 2020, UNHCR was able to assist only 2,286. This resulted in the deterioration of living conditions and well-being, as access to employment was limited due to COVID-19. The improvement and expansion of livelihoods interventions remains a key objective.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding) 

In 2020, UNHCR received some US$ 16.7 million as unearmarked funding and US$ 4.2 million as softly earmarked funding, which allowed UNHCR to maintain its current programmes and to respond to unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19. Flexible funding allows UNHCR to allocate funds where they are most needed, such as health and education which are chronically underfunded, in order to support the government to continue to uphold inclusive policies for refugees in national systems.

Working environment

The Islamic Republic of Iran hosts one of the largest and most protracted urban refugee populations in the world - 951,142 Afghan refugees and 28,268 Iraqi refugees with 97% of them living in urban and rural areas while the remaining 3% residing in 21 settlements managed by the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA). 

Iran is going through a challenging economic period with sharply reducing perspectives for growth as a result of the evolving international environment linked to the country and the region in general. This situation poses further strain on national resources as well as on refugees and their host communities, presenting a number of challenges for the country. UNHCR will continue its work with the Government to develop and apply a strategic approach to engage the international community and apply a whole-of-society approach, as outlined in the Global Compact on Refugees. Some international players have shown interest in supporting humanitarian and other activities which are not directly affected by restrictions applied to the country.

Despite the prevailing economic situation, Iran is committed to continue with a number of inclusive refugee policies that were introduced in recent years; facilitating access for all foreign children residing in Iran to enroll in public schools, access for all refugees to enroll in the national Universal Primary Health Insurance (UPHI), and access to legally engage in livelihoods opportunities through attaining temporary work permits. UNHCR and partners will support the Government in its commendable efforts and will target programmes towards enhancement of national systems and to support implementation of those inclusive and progressive policies.

 Key priorities

The main interventions for 2020-2021 aim at supporting the Government to continue to provide more sustainable access to quality national services in particular health and education, greater opportunities for self-reliance including through financial and economic inclusion, enhanced access to social safety nets for vulnerable refugees and enhanced harm prevention and response mechanism, while seeking durable solutions.

  • Protection activities will include promotion of access to asylum, registration and documentation, protection against refoulement, will further focus on civil documentation as a prevention for statelessness, alternative dispute resolution and legal support, applying and further enhancing a community based approach. The latter will focus on engaging directly with communities and supporting initiatives aiming at peaceful co-existence and social cohesion with host communities.
  • Durable solutions will be pursued through facilitating voluntary repatriation for those who opt for return, and efforts will be made to increase resettlement quota, while promoting and facilitating complementary pathways for third country solution, particular in relation to family reunification. 
  • Support refugees’ access to national health services, in particular UPHI will continue in 2020. The Government and national institutions continue to need support in view of their significant investment to open the access of the health insurance to all refugees.
  • In the area of education, UNHCR will continue to support the efforts of the Government to further open quality access of schools to refugees by constructing schools in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, in areas where critical needs will be identified.  
  • In the area of livelihoods, UNHCR, jointly with the Government, plans to further expand access to diversified livelihoods opportunities for refugees. There has been gradual openings by the Government which has confirmed its commitment to seek greater self-reliance and livelihoods opportunities for the refugees.
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2021
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