N Analysis of the Situation of Afghan Refugees in Iran

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3. An Analysis of the Situation of Afghan Refugees in Iran

Abas Abdie

Introduction

The influx of 25 to 30% of the Afghan population to Iran and Pakistan over the years has made an in-depth study of their situation necessary. The importance of such a study becomes evident when we take into consideration that there is a basic difference between Afghan refugees in Iran, refugees in Pakistan and refugees in other parts of the world.

Any kind of planning for the reception of refugees and for the improvement of their situation should be based on the assumption that the refugee is trying to preserve his national identity and is looking forward to returning to his own country.

The Difference Between Afghan Refugees in Iran and in Pakistan

Altogether more than five million Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. Although they come from a single country and apparently have the same reason for seeking asylum, each refugee chases one of these two countries according to his needs and his circumstances. As there are basic differences between the two countries concerning the admission of refugees, the refugees in Iran have different characteristics in comparison with the refugees in Pakistan. Such characteristics can be seen in language, religion, ethnicity, status of living, employment, sex and age combination, as well as in the motive for seeking asylum and the way of the eventual settlement.

Most of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan live in frontier camps. They preserve their social texture, and their situation is such that as soon as the political circumstances allow it they immediately return to their home country. The situation for Afghan refugees in Iran is a different one. This difference has grown out of some peculiarities of the admission policy for refugees in Iran.

These peculiarities are:

A-The allocation of refugees to different regions in Iran. The proportion of refugees in each province varies according to the size of the Iranian population. In some western provinces (combat areas) there are no refugees.

B-Settlements in urban areas and out-of-camp areas.

C-The possibility of seeking employment

D-Religious solidarity of Iranians (the majority of whom are Shias) with the world's Shias including Afghan Shias.

Because of these peculiarities there are some basic differences between the Afghan refugees in the two countries:

A-The number of Shia refugees in Iran (in comparison with Pakistan) is much higher. These refugees are mainly from central areas of Afghanistan and they are Hezareh people. One reason for this fact is the common use of the Persian language by them and the Iranians. Other groups of Afghan refugees are mainly Sunni and speak Pushtu.

B-The percentage of male refugees in Iran is much greater than in Pakistan. This is probably due to the availability of jobs in Iran which attracts Afghans who are old enough to be part of the work force. Choosing an occupation and earning money leads to financial independence of the refugees, something that can hardly be encountered in camps.

C-Living out of camps and getting in touch with the people of the host country leads to a kind of cultural attachment and attraction. However, if the cultural level of the refugees is considered to be lower than that of the hosts, contacts between these two groups might lead to a kind of cultural humiliation and cause different reactions on the refugees' part. This cultural humiliation as a whole may damage their national morale which is an important motivation for their returning home. Living out of camps for a long period of time results in the separation of the refugees from their own culture. This applies mainly to young people. Life in camps includes some social control of the members of that society. Most of the social structures still exist for the refugees. Living out of camps however, leads to a kind of disintegration of the individual's social...
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