Repatriation of Afghan and Iraqi Refugees from Iran: When Home is No Longer Home

Anisseh Van Engeland-Nourai

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The Islamic Republic of Iran hosts the largest refugee population in the world. The 2001 national census figures included approximately 2.55 million documented refugees. The numbers for 2007 are different: there are 1,025,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Among them are 940,400 Afghan refugees and 54,400 Iraqi refugees, the two largest refugee communities living in Iran. They are difficult to locate as they not only live in camps but also in cities, at the margins of Iranian society. These refugees were tolerated by Iran until the immigration policy shifted to the decision to repatriate them to their home countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has signed a tripartite agreement with Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the repatriation of Afghan refugees on a voluntary basis. The plan for repatriation of Iraqi refugees has been set up by the UNHCR alone. While the repatriation programme for Afghanistan is still going on, the repatriation plan for Iraq has been suspended because of the instability and violence in the country. The living conditions for Afghan and Iraqi refugees have become incredibly difficult in Iran and most of them choose the voluntary repatriation option. However they often find desolation, war, insecurity and unemployment on their return. This raises questions about the sustainability of repatriation programmes in a country at war such as Iraq and in an unstable country such as Afghanistan. This article, based on extensive fieldwork carried out in Iran, explores pre- and post-return conditions for Afghan and Iraqi refugees: how do they live in Iran? What are the options given to them regarding their future in Iran? What are their conditions after repatriation? 

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article: 

Van Engeland-Nourai, Anisseh. Repatriation of Afghan and Iraqi Refugees from Iran: When Home is No Longer Home. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2008, vol.10, no.2, pp. 145-168, UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574.

About the author: 

Anisseh Van Engeland-Nourai is a Boulton fellow at the Law Faculty, McGill University (Montreal, Canada). She holds a Master’s in law from Harvard Law School (United States) and a Ph.D. from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (France). She teaches in the area of human rights, humanitarian law and Islamic law. She was previously a Max Weber fellow affiliated to the Law Department at the European University Institute and an adjunct professor at James Madison University in Florence (Italy) where she taught European Union law. She has worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Labour Office, International Organization for Migration and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs on various human rights and humanitarian law projects. She is a consultant for several universities, research centres and think tanks worldwide. Her most recent publications include From Violence to Politics: The Transformation of Terrorist Groups into Political Parties (Ashgate, UK); a chapter on “Islamic law, terrorism and humanitarian law” inAntiterrorism: Global Scenario, edited by V. B. Malleswari (ICFAI, Hyderabad, India); and a forthcoming article, “Islam and the protection of civilians in the conduct of hostilities: the asymmetrical war from the transnational terrorist groups’ viewpoint and from the Muslim modernists’ viewpoint”.

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