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Studies Paint a Worrying Picture of Iranians' Attitudes to Afghan Migrants

August 26, 2021
Behnam Gholipour
4 min read
Studies Paint a Worrying Picture of Iranians' Attitudes to Afghan Migrants

Since the Taliban overran Kabul and cemented its takeover of Afghanistan last weekend, Afghans of all backgrounds have been scrambling to their way to a safer country in any way they can. Images of crowds at Kabul Airport, of jam-packed charter flights and desperate men clinging to the landing gear of a departing US military plane have horrified and transfixed the world for the past 10 days.

Countless other Afghans have continued trying to make the no less perilous journey to neighboring countries by land. For decades Iran has been a major destination of Afghans fleeing insecurity in their place of birth; in fact, more than 95 percent of foreign nationals living in Iran are from Afghanistan. But academic and state-run studies alike also show that after years of coexistence, many Iranians still harbor negative attitudes toward Afghan migrants and refugees.

In these studies, the concept of “attitude” is generally broken down into three indicators: “cognitive”, “emotional” and “behavioral”. The broad conclusions is that Iranians and Afghan arrivals experience problems in the first category, which goes on to shape the other two. In essence, the host society still lacks adequate understanding of Afghan migrants’ cultural background, social mores and living conditions.

Most of the respondents to these surveys talk openly about their ignorance of Afghans social culture, and their negative feelings toward them. A not-inconsiderable number of Iranians perceive Afghans to be largely illiterate manual workers and, in some cases, believe they are “perverse” or even “dangerous”.

The latest of these studies, entitled “Cultural Policy and Human Rights of Afghan Immigrants in Iran”, appeared in the quarterly Iranian Population Studies, which is published by the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Technology. It explored the various policy stances of the Islamic Republic toward Afghan immigrants.

The first hallmark policy, which held up until the Taliban took power for the first time in 1996, was described as “open doors” and led to the first wave of Afghan migration into Iran. After that, immigration policy became more closed and reactive. In the past two years, though, officials of the Islamic Republic have adopted a new, slightly gentler policy towards Afghan arrivals again. One of the reasons cited for this turn of events in the study is that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has recently been sending Afghan migrants to Syria to fight on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad via its Fatemiyoun Brigade.

These contradictory policies toward Afghans have led to wide-ranging discrimination against Afghan refugees and migrants in Iran. Government-affiliated media outlets have often subtly contributed to anti-Afghan sentiments.

Another study, published in 2016 and entitled “Citizens’ Attitudes Towards Foreign Immigrants Living in Mashhad”, found that a plurality of Mashhad citizens regarded Afghan migrants as one of the main causes worsening social ills in the city. The respondents also said Afghan migrants had “driven up house prices” and were “harming” the school environment.

Studies Paint a Worrying Picture of Iranians' Attitudes to Afghan Migrants

Elsewhere, the city of Qom hosts no more Afghan citizens than any other major city in Iran. But residents of this city also widely believe Afghans’ presence has undermined job security, as a 2016 study by Qom Police Quarterly found. The majority of respondents also said they believed the so-called “replacement” of Iranian workers by Afghans was “undermining “national security” and security in Qom, and that Afghans’ purchasing of homes was contributing to local housing shortages.

A more recent survey conducted in 2020 also found that a staggering 43 percent of the people in Tehran agreed with the statement that Afghans should be banned from living in the capital. Support for such a ban was found to be more prevalent among less educated residents, and people living in the less privileged southern neighborhoods.

But 44 percent of Tehranis across the board also said they agreed Afghans should live in their own, separate “special neighborhoods”: in other words, in some kind of ghetto. Forty percent of respondents also said Afghans should have special schools designated for them – though another 52 percent flatly disagreed with this.

When asked about similarities between Iranian and Afghan cultures, only 23 percent of people said they believed the two were “very” similar. Around 40 percent of Tehran survey participants agreed with the statement that Afghans’ presence had reduced Iranians’ employment opportunities, while just 53 percent said they did not believe Afghans were responsible for increasing the crime rate.  

Related Coverage:

Iran's Interior Ministry: Afghan Refugees Will be Turned Back at the Border

What Treatment Can Fleeing Afghans Expect From Iran?

Iranian People-Smugglers Taking Afghans Hostage: A Refugee's Story

A Teenager’s Story of Being Trafficked into Iran

Afghan Migrants are Systematically Brutalized by Iran's Border Police

An Afghan’s Horrifying Memory of a Refugee Camp in Iran

Afghans Accuse Iranian Border Guards of Drowning Their Loved Ones

IRGC Sending Afghan Refugees to Military Training in Lebanon

Afghan Migrants in Iran Get a Simple Choice: Fight in Syria or be Deported

Afghan Child Soldier in Syria Feels Lucky to be Alive




The Supreme Leader Interferes in Cabinet Selections Again

August 25, 2021
Ehsan Mehrabi
5 min read
The Supreme Leader Interferes in Cabinet Selections Again