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The inappropriate condition of Iranian refugees of UNHCR


Forgotten people in the world's largest democracy

Indian subcontinent, as one of the most populous countries in the world after China and the world's largest democracy with an ancient background is considered among the most desirable travel destinations for tourists from all over the world, but from the perspective of an Iranian exiled refugee, is nothing but an exile and stalemate

India had witnessed the influx of refugees’ years before the augmentation of the crackdown on dissidents in Iran after the presidential election in 2009. Since 2005, after the investiture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran, the crackdown caused by the security services in Iran has increased noticeably, and it resulted that many Iranian dissent leave their home country toward India seeking asylum.With a look into the published report of ”Human Rights Watch” on ‘The Status of Refugees in Turkey’, lack of an insight on current unfavorable conditions of Iranian refugees in India was obvious. The circumstances of Iranian refugees in India, in comparison to Turkey are very different in many ways and can be said to be even more critical. Although India is recognized widely as the world largest democracy, this country, for whatsoever reason, did not accept to sign the convention on the protection of refugees 1951 and 1967, while Turkey is a member of this convention. On this basis, ‘El-yasin Human Rights and International Affaris’ with partnership of ‘Family of Peace’ had published a detailed report on the status of these refugees.This report will try to visualize the living condition of Iranian refugees for the international institutions and human right organizations, for these people (i.e. Iranian refugees in India) shall not fall into the blind spot of international communities and be forgotten 

Arrival of Iranian refugees to India

India is among the countries that even years before the escalation of crackdowns on dissent, starting after the 2009 elections, witnessed the influx of Iranian refugees. Based on the Human Rights Lawyers Network report, in accordance with the laws of India, the refugees do not enjoy legal protection under the law and are subject to the foreigner’s legislation of this country. However, the legislation contains the toughest laws against foreigner. As a result, refugees are being seriously pursued by the Indian government as illegal foreigners. Consequently, the dangers that threaten the Iranian refugees’ lives - who sought asylum to the UN refugee office in India - are in the shadow of the assumption that India is ruled by democracy.Approximately, 80 percent of the refugee’s population in India is from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Tibet and Jammu-Kashmir (disputed by the Government of India and Pakistan). The office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees in India has announced that by the end of 2012, about 22 thousand refugees have been granted refugee cards, which are mostly from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia. It is worthy to mention that, among all the refugees and asylum seekers in India, refugees from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tibet and most recently Afghanistan are supported by the Government of India. According to the statistics, the remaining 20 percent of the refugees are particularly from the countries of Ethiopia, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan; Iranian refugees in this group are a lost proportion 

Absence of any means of support for Iranian refugees in India

India has not signed the 1951 and 1967 Refugee Convention; Government of India does not even legally recognize the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office as a non-governmental organization. In fact, this office does not officially exist in India. Refugees in India, under the India foreigners’ act 1946 are considered foreigners. In this Act, there is no clear prediction for the residence of refugees, or a distinction between a resident foreigner and a refugee. Consequently, refugees who do not have valid identification or residential document are subject to heavy penalties, including being returned to the country of origin. Therefore Iranian refugees, who are unable to renew their identification passport in Iranian consular office or embassy, are in a high-risk situation in terms of residential status.Recently, the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that he is trying to obtain legal residence facilities for refugees in India, but these facilities will aim those who possess at least a valid identification or passport. In regards to Afghan refugees, due to the close relationship between their country and India, they get special means of support, the Afghanistan consular office in India, issues the passport for the Afghan refugee. This does not apply for the Iranian refugees who mostly possess an expired visa or passport and cannot reissue their passports at Iranian embassy; as a result they will be at risk of being returned to their home country 

Good relations between India and Iran; a security risk for Iranian refugees

On Thursday December 20, the UN General Assembly had condemned the human rights violations in Iran. According to ‘Voice of Germany’, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against Iran which has been proposed by Canada, with 86 votes in favor, 32 votes against and 65 abstentions.It is worth to mention that India was among the countries that voted against the resolution which indicates that these days, highest level of diplomatic relations between Tehran and New Delhi is well established, up to the point that the Iranian leadership representative has opened an office in New Delhi. The Iranian secret service, fall under the Iranian leadership supervision and jurisdiction. The Iran and India joint commissions -held regularly- indicates the close collaborations between the two countries intelligent services.Although that the Office of the UN refugee claims that he has close ties with the Indian government, and they will not permit for a refugee to be forced to return to their countries of origin; the Indian government does not legally recognize this organization and these expel acts are issued by the India's Supreme Court, which acts independently

 Limited performance of UN High Commissioner for Refugees in New Delhi

According to Civil Society Center, the office of refugee commissioner has no official presence in India and it only has the permission to Identify, register and relocates the refugees, plus to grant them refugee identification card .The government of India does not recognize those who have refugee identity document from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as refugees. These Identity cards are just issued to help the refugees. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), through communicating with charities and non-governmental organizations registered in India, such as the Don Bosco and YMCA, tries to establish a constitutional presence in the community and develop his local agency. However, this office cannot even mount his placard at these offices clearly and obviouslyThe main acceptable act of UNHCR in India, is issuing refugees identity cards that are being issued for approximately two years in form of smart cards. But this card, regardless of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office claim, is not recognized by the Government of IndiaIn general, the duties of this office in New Delhi and offices in other countries, is limited to registration, identification and replacement of refugees to a third country. Unfortunately - according to published reports- the third task (i.e. the relocation to a third country) operations and regulations are not clear and obvious and the possibility of relocation to a third country in this office is very low and perchance. The relocation is not considered as a right for the refugees by this office, but the information sources mention that most of relocations which take place are for those who are primarily an interest for the Indian state, which will be the Afghan and Burmese groups who have been recognized by the Indian government for granting visas. These are the largest population of refugees who are introduced for relocation by the UN Office to the asylum countries. Conversely, refugees and vulnerable populations such as Iranians, who have the highest risk vulnerabilities, are not advised by the Office.

Through a brief study of the following categories of refugees’ living condition, the condition of Iranian refugee in India can be evaluated as high risk


Due to the lack of work permit and a valid identity card, Iranian refugees are banned from having any legal job in India; also the refugee agency is excused from giving financial assistance and employment. Because of international sanctions against Iran, the banks and financial institutions do not provide the money transfer facility for Iranians, especially without having a valid passport and identity card. The low value of Rials against foreign currencies and the money transfer regulations have made the living much more difficult.

Residence and domicile

Iranian refugees, due to lack of a valid visa, passport and identity cards as well, are struggling with lots of problems for their residential issue. The high price of houses and the rental, along with lack of legal support has forced most of Iranians to settle in unsafe neighborhoods and below the general level of health.

Inhabitancy and Identity

Unlike other refugees, Iranian refugees in India are not able to get a passport from their embassy and the government of India does not provide them with Visa. From the Indian government prospective, it is illegal and punishable for a refugee to be in India without a visa or a valid passport which in regards to above facts is impossible for Iranian refugees to get them. Moreover, not possessing an identity card is equal to no work permit, no residence permits at the hotels, no using the airline, no bank account and losing lots of other civil rights.


Unfortunately, regardless of all India's economic progress in recent years, the state of health in India is not desirable and New Delhi is among the most polluted cities in the world.

Dengue deadly disease and malaria fever near the polluted river Yamuna, lack of public hygiene, lack of proper control over the growth of harmful organisms such as mice, contaminated drinking water, inadequate sewage systems, water irrigation, long disconnection of electricity and water, and the fact that the refugees are forced to live in places which are not acceptable even with the Indian standards, in addition to the lack of medical services of the organization for Refugees, make the situation deadlier than before.


Due to lack of passport, the Iranian refugees don’t have the right to go to college, and it is noteworthy to mention that most of these refugees are from the educated class and have university education but have been banned from continuing their studies in their country, such as Baha'is and so. The refugee children, due to financial problems and lack of visa are deprived of education in private schools. The United Nations make some efforts to provide them with the possibility to continue their education in the Indian public schools which unfortunately, due to the low quality of teaching and teaching in Hindi language, are not available for the Iranians.

Social Security and Compliance

Due to the population of India as the second largest and great differences between social classes, India does not have a good social security.

Lack of Visa and passport and also the close relation between Indian and Iranian governments, gives the lack of security, even a new shape and color.

Unfortunately, because of the social classification system in India and top to bottom look originating from racism and rejection of foreigners, especially those who have bad financial condition, makes it unsafe even more.

India-Iran Relations

The Government of India has close economic and political ties with Iran from long time ago, approximately since ever. The Indian Muslim population which are around 250 million, their willingness to Iranian government, and the anti-American Iranian government policies and anti-American ideas of the Indian people, created a safe environment for Iranian government officials. Iran's influence in India and the Kashmir issue makes it the only guaranteed reliable communicational way to Afghanistan too.

Unfortunately, these conditions, and the fact that India did not accept nor signed the Refugee rights conventions, made the conditions for Iranian refugees from all refugees classifications (religious, political, etc.), which became refugee to India and UN because of their problems with the government of Iran, so difficult and frightening.

Religion and Freedom of Speech

India is a country which has the greatest diversity of religions and religious freedom, and a hope for all religious minorities throughout the world. Freedom of expression and democracy in India is laudable and is a paradise in this field for ideological activists.

The existence of Islamic associations in India and the footprints of Iranian Intelligent Secret Service to put on work the Iranian spies which some of them are not even Iranian, has created panic among Iranian refugees.  This panic goes so far that they even engage secretly to their religious activities and They even cannot have a formal blog or NGO to express their opinions and their prevention. With no support from the Government of India, the lack of legal legitimacy and unsecure housing conditions makes it more difficult.


In the end, publishers of this report, by referring to the 2ndArticle of the Declaration of Human Rights that proclaims:"Everyone deserves and has the right to live in liberty and security", with the knowledge on the fact that the monitoring and controlling of refugees in India is a challenge for the UN New Delhi, stress that the situation of Iranian refugees in the coming days will be more difficult in the International equations .The publishers believe that the Iranian government, when it comes to critical situations, cracks down increasingly on dissidents and oppositions who live abroad, to prevent the internal repressions from reaching their voice to the outside world through their fellow compatriots. Since these refugees are in minimum protection, they will be an easy target for the Iranian government. The report indicates that Iranian refugees have serious situation in regards to social welfare, health, and general economic and civil rights, which is in declaration of Human Rights. It is more painful that in the worried look and searching of Iranian refugees in India, especially in the last 3 years, no reports of systematic and extensive human rights situation has been seen in news reports. This report tries to evaluate the situation of Iranian refugees in India to the United Nations to reach this point that it is time that human rights organizations, especially Mr. Ahmed Shahid, pay special attention to the status of these refugees who had to leave their homeland after the crackdown on dissidents and new thinkers 



  1. Union for Human Rights & International Affairs of EL-Yasin
  2. 2013 UNHCR regional operations profile - South Asia
  3. World Refugee Survey 2009 – India-United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  4. UNHCR and the Protection of Refugees in India -
  5. Why They Left-Stories of Iranian Activists in Exile- 2012 Human Rights Watch
  6. Report of Refugee Populations in India  -HRLN
  7. REFUGEES IN DELHI--BY Maina Sharma- Centre for Civil Society
  8. Country Report on the Refugee situation in India by SAHRDC
  10. Persian - Wikipedia


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