Iran is significant to global forced migration both as a source and as a destination country for asylum seekers and refugees. It is part of an unstable region and led by a religious theocracy government. Ethnically diverse, the population of Iran is approximately 77 million.

Iran is a signatory to the Refugee Convention as well as other international conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Iran as a source country of asylum seekers

Despite having ratified these international treaties, Iran continues to be widely criticised for human rights violations, including the ongoing execution of juvenile offenders, homosexuals and political dissidents.

A 2015 United States Department of State Report highlights significant human rights problems in Iran, particularly related to severe restrictions on civil liberties (such as freedoms of assembly, association, speech, religion, and press), limitations in free and fair elections, and escalating use of capital punishment for crimes that do not meet the threshold of most serious crime or are committed by juvenile offenders.

In this context, Iran is a significant source of refugees. In 2015, there were approximately 85,000 Iranian refugees, of whom nearly 15,000 were receiving assistance from UNHCR. However, the height of refugees fleeing Iran occurred during the 1980s and 1990s, following the 1979 fall of the monarchy, the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the protracted war between Iraq and Iran. During this time, many Iranians fled religious and political persecution. 

In 2012-13, Australia received 4382 asylum requests from Iranian nationals who had arrived by boat.

There are a significant number of Iranian asylum seekers living in Australian communities, many of which are waiting decisions on their claims for asylum. At April 2017, there were 6905 Iranian asylum seekers (who arrived by boat) in the ‘IMA Legacy Caseload’ who have either not made an application or their application is ‘on-hand’, the largest proportion of any other nationality. At this same time, there were 104 Iranian nationals in immigration detention facilities and 269 in community detention. 

In 2015-16, 279 Iranian nationals were granted refugee category visas in Australia. The majority of asylum seekers from Iran are found to be genuine refugees, with over 79 per cent receiving a positive assessment of refugee status from the Australian Government between 2008 and 2013.

In the European context, of the 1,015,078 people who crossed the Mediterranean to arrive in Europe in 2015, 2 per cent were from Iran.

Iran as a host country to asylum seekers and refugees

UNHCR reports that Iran hosts the fourth-largest number of refugees in the world, after Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon, with 979,400 by the end of 2015.

The great majority of refugees located in Iran, estimated at 951,100, have originated from Afghanistan, with much of this Afghan population having lived in Iran for more than three decades. In addition, the UNHCR estimates around 1.5 to 2 million undocumented Afghans are living in Iran.

Over recent years, Iran has played an important role in supporting the repatriation of refugees it hosts. In May 2012, Iran partnered with UNHCR and neighbouring states to deliver the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. This strategy aims to deliver basic health and education services, while also facilitating the relocation and voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees in the Middle East.

Asylum seekers arriving in Iran are registered by the government and provided with a refugee identity card. They are allowed to live in the community, where they receive access to basic services, such as primary health care and the right to attend school. Refugees who hold an Afghan passport are also able to apply for temporary work permits. The Iranian Government delivers these services in conjunction with the financial and logistical support of UNHCR.

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Last updated October 2017.