The preliminary 1986 national census figures included approximately
2.6 million persons listed as refugees of foreign nationality.
The largest number, consisting of slightly more than 2.3 million,
were Afghans. The refugees from Afghanistan were concentrated
in several refugee camps in eastern Iran, but approximately one-third
of them were living in such cities as Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tehran
at the time of the census. In addition, there were nearly 300,000
refugees from Iraq, with which Iran had been at war since 1980.
The influx of foreign refugees was the direct result of war on
Iran's borders. Since early 1980, the Afghan refugees had been
fleeing the fighting in their country between various Afghan resistance
groups and government forces assisted by more than 100,000 Soviet
troops. The Iraqi refugees were expelled by their own government,
which claimed that they were really Iranian descendants of persons
who had immigrated to Iraq from Iran many years ago. In addition
to refugees of foreign origins, Tehran has had to cope with several
hundred thousand Iranian civilian refugees from the war zones.
The Iraqi advance into Khuzestan in the fall of 1980 resulted
in extensive damage to the residential areas of two of Iran's
major cities, Abadan and Khorramshahr, as well as the destruction
of numerous small towns and villages (see The Original Iraqi Offensive
, ch. 5). The intensive shelling of the large cities of Ahvaz
and Dezful also destroyed residential neighborhoods. Consequently,
tens of thousands of civilians fled southwestern Iran in 1980
and 1981, and the government set up refugee reception areas in
Shiraz, Tehran, and other cities removed from the battle zone.
During the Iraqi occupation of Khuzestan, the government had to
shelter up to 1.5 million refugees. Efforts to resettle at least
some of the refugees were undertaken in 1983 after Iran had recaptured
much of Khuzestan from Iraq; however, continued fighting in the
area and Iraqi air strikes on cities and towns in western Iran
resulted in a steady stream of displaced civilians in need of
food and shelter.
During the period 1980 to 1981, the government of Iraq expelled
into Iran about 200,000 persons whom it claimed were Iranians.
Most were Iraqi citizens, sometimes whole families, who were or
had been residents of Iraq's Shia shrine cities and also were
descendants of Iranian clergy and pilgrims who had settled in
the religious centers as far back as the eighteenth century. In
most cases, the refugees had never been to Iran and could speak
no Persian (Farsi). Furthermore, they were required to leave the
greater part of their possessions in Iraq. Thus, the Iranian government
had to provide them with basic food and shelter.
Developing policies to deal with the Afghan refugees became a
major burden for the government as early as 1984 because the number
of Afghan refugees had continued to increase almost daily since
the first group crossed the border in 1980. Iran, however, received
virtually no international assistance for the Afghan refugees.
It set up several camps in eastern Iran where the refugees were
processed and provided with basic shelter and rations. These camps
were located in or near towns in Khorasan and were provided with
certain municipal services such as free access to public schools
for registered refugee children. Although no data have been published
on the gender and age composition of the refugees, press reports
indicate that most were probably women, children, and men too
old to fight, as in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Most
of the young men probably remained with the Afghan resistance
forces for the greater part of the year.
Although the Afghans were required to live in the special refugee
camps, by 1986 an estimated one-third of them had left the camps
and were living in residential areas of large cities such as Mashhad,
Shiraz, and Tehran. The Afghans apparently came to the cities
in order to earn money to support families who remained in the
camps. They engaged in street vending and worked on construction
sites or in factories. The Iranian press periodically reported
on the roundup of such Afghans and their forcible return to the
camps. The Afghans needed special work permits, but it was not
clear whether these were difficult or easy to obtain or whether
private employers required them as a condition of employment.
Data as of December 1987