Conditions of refugees in Iran; documents issued to refugees in Iran (follow-up to IRN36964.E of 22 May 2001) [IRN37744.E]

On 25 July 2001 a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ottawa stated the following, in a letter to the Research Directorate:

Most refugees in Iran (particularly Iraqis and Afghans) are considered as foreigners without any specific rights linked to their condition as refugees. Their freedom of movement is restricted; they are not able to obtain travel documents enabling them to travel to and from the country; they are required to obtain work permits but usually are not able to get them because the policy governing this matter is very restrictive.
The various types of documents in circulation reflect this situation and do not necessarily respond to the refugees' real need for protection. Following are the documents currently or previously issued to refugees by the Iranian authorities:
1. Refugee Booklets: These are documents that were provided to political refugees in the days prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. To our knowledge, these documents are issued only exceptionally nowadays, under very special circumstances, to well connected individuals often with an impressive academic background. Amongst all documents provided to Iraqis and Afghans, they are the only ones that make reference to the 1951 Convention. They need to be renewed every three months.
2. Permanent Cards: These are residence cards for Iraqis and Afghans. They are green in colour for the Iraqis and blue for the Afghans. The word "refugee" or reference to the 1951 Convention does not appear anywhere on the documents. These cards are not limited in validity and do not need to be renewed regularly. They were issued until 1992.
3. Temporary Cards (or temporary residence cards): In 1995 the UNHCR intervened with the Government of Iran to regularize the situation of approximately half a million Afghans who had either not registered with authorities to obtain Permanent Cards prior to 1992, or had arrived after the Government had stopped issuing cards (after 1992). In 1996, these temporary cards were declared no longer valid and the holders were consequently considered illegal aliens in Iran and were told by authorities that they should repatriate.
4. Laissez-Passer: These documents are valid for one way travel out of Iran. In 1995, during the Iranian Government's efforts to reduce the number of Afghan refugees in the Province of Khorasan, it was usual for the authorities to confiscate cards from Afghans in exchange for the Laissez-Passer, indicating that the holder should leave the country within a certain period. The Ministry of the Interior (through the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs - BAFIA) also issues this document to those who request permission to leave Iran for resettlement or repatriation.
5. Leave Permits: are given by camp directors to camp residents as proof that they are permitted to leave the camp for a certain period.
6. Joint Programme Certificate (also known somewhat confusingly as Laissez-Passer): issued to Afghan refugees under the Iran-UNHCR Joint Programme for the Voluntary Repatriation of Afghan refugees implemented in 2000.
Legally speaking, in terms of the documents and the rights (such as exist) attached to those documents, there is no difference between Shiite Iraqis and other Iraqis.
The Government of Iran considers all undocumented refugees and asylum-seekers as illegal deportable aliens who do not have a right to any form of refugee protection.
Therefore, undocumented Iraqis are regularly in danger of being deported to their country of origin, despite the continuous objection of the UNHCR. Many such persons have been deported although, in comparison with the Afghan refugees, deportation of Iraqi refugees is relatively less frequent largely because Iraqis are fewer in number in Iran than Afghans, are not as conspicuously present in the labour market as Afghans, and many Iraqis live in the south of Iran, where thy blend in more easily with Arabic-speaking Iranians. Others live in provinces such as Qom where many Arabs are studying in Islamic seminaries, and where Iraqis are less conspicuous among the Arab students.
Even a documented Iraqi may be deported, although more rarely. At times the government of Iran may object to the presence of an Iraqi refugee on grounds of public interest or public order, and such a person may be removed. In cases such as this, the government informs the UNHCR that the refugee should leave the country. Deportation may be avoided if the UNHCR can resettle the individual elsewhere.
The issue of documentation for refugees and asylum-seekers has come to the forefront again in the context of the implementation of Article 48, and annex of the Iranian Five-Year Development Plan voted in April 2000, which contains subsections whereby the Ministry of the Interior is instructed to take measures to ensure all foreigners without work permits would be collected and returned to their countries of origin. In the same legislation exception is granted to those whose lives may be at risk if returned. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been given the responsibility of determining the presence or absence of threat to life of the persons concerned.
The legislation and future implementation of Article 48 has undoubtedly added to the anxiety of all refugees presently in Iran, whose prospect of a stable life there has considerably diminished. Probably as a result, many refugees (Iraqis and Afghans) who had been living outside of refugee camps and had attained some degree of self-sufficiency have approached the UNHCR to express concern about deteriorating conditions. UNHCR Iran has received many reports from refugees whose work permits have been suddenly terminated and who were forcibly released from their long-held jobs.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


UNHCR, Branch Office for Canada. 25 July 2001. Correspondence.