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					                   Afghan refugees in Iran: the
                   needs of women and children
                                                           by Catherine Squire and Negar Gerami
Foroogh Foyouzat




                                                                                                                 It was in this context that the Intern-
                                                                                                                 ational Consortium for Refugees in
                                                                                                                 Iran (ICRI) started trying to gather
                                                                                                                 more systematic information on the
                                                                                                                 needs and situation of Afghan refug-
                                                                                                                 ees. As the coordinating body for local
                                                                                                                 and international NGOs working with
                                                                                                                 refugees, ICRI tries to raise awareness
                                                                                                                 of the problems facing refugees in
                                                                                                                 Iran, by disseminating detailed infor-
                                                                                                                 mation on their situation.

                                                                                                                 (1) Individual interviews
                                                                                                                  Starting from a base of virtually no
                                                                                                                  information on those refugees outside
                                                                                                                  camps, we started the process of
                                                                                                                  information collection between 1996
                                                                                                                  and 1998 by visiting and interviewing
                                                                                                                  refugee families in all the major
                                                                                                                  refugee areas: Kerman, Shiraz, Sistan-
                                                                                                                  Baluchistan, Mashad, Teheran and
                                                                                                                  Shahriyar (Teheran province). Because



                   S
                         ince at least the 1970s Afghans        repatriated and now live as ‘illegal’             of the insecure situation of many of
                         have been coming to Iran, some in      refugees who risk being arrested if found.     the refugees, it was not possible to con-
                         search of work, others to seek pro-                                                   duct systematic randomised sample sur-
                   tection. The political dominance by the      In such a situation it is extremely diffi-     veys in any given area. We had no choice
                                                                cult to keep accurate figures on the           but to conduct low-profile individual
                   Taliban since 1995 has been a signifi-
                                                                number of refugees in Iran. According to       interviews with refugee families (usually
                   cant factor in the acceleration in the
                                                                recent official figures, there are about       women) who were introduced to us by
                   flow of refugees.
                                                                1.4m Afghans in Iran at present, of            someone they trusted. Generally, we
                                                                which only 22,000 (1.7 per cent) are living    spent about 4-5 days in each area,
                   Refugees who came in the 1980s were
                                                                in camps. The vast majority of Afghans         accompanied by local community lead-
                   given ‘green cards’ which entitled them
                                                                live integrated into Iranian society scat-     ers who took us to the homes and work-
                   to live and work in Iran, and to benefit
                                                                tered around the country, mostly in            places of a selection of families.
                   from schooling and health care. In the
                                                                cities where they can get jobs but also in
                   early 1990s the government’s policy                                                         We were usually able to interview about
                                                                villages and settlements in rural areas.
                   towards refugees changed in the face of                                                     30 families, using a standard list of
                   the worsening domestic economic situa-                                                      questions. These included the composi-
                                                                The need for better information
                   tion. After 1992 the authorities stopped                                                    tion of the family, the work done by dif-
                   issuing refugee cards. The vast majority     For NGOs trying to plan programmes of          ferent members of the family and how
                   of Afghans who arrived in Iran since         assistance, the lack of reliable informa-      much each was paid, their living expens-
                   1992 are considered illegal and have no      tion makes it difficult to identify priority   es (rent and related expenditure) and
                   right to asylum. Furthermore, between        areas or to target particular groups of        accommodation situation, any health
                   1992 and 1994 many thousands of              refugees. This is particularly true of those   problems, their occupation and place of
                   refugees lost their legal status in a sys-   refugees who do not possess green cards.       origin in Afghanistan and their views on
                   tematic campaign of confiscations of         These refugees tend to be the most vul-        returning to their country. In all we
                   green cards from Afghans living in           nerable as they cannot travel to find          interviewed over 200 families. Based on
                   Khorassan province (bordering Herat). It     work and are not allowed to attend             the information gathered, we compiled a
                   is not uncommon to find families who         schools or use public health services.         series of reports in which we looked at
                   repatriated under the UN-sponsored pro-      They are vulnerable to exploitative work       Afghans’ access to work, health, housing
                   gramme in 1996 and 1997, who have            conditions, and to random arrest and           and environmental conditions, and in
                   returned to Iran because of hardship or      deportation. Because of their lack of offi-    particular the situation of women and
                   fear of persecution. These families had      cial status they are reluctant to let NGOs     children in each area.
                   to give up their refugee cards when they     gather information about their situation.


                   FORCED MIGRATION review                                                                                  December 1998, 3        19
Taking stock                                   on a particular subject. In May 1998, a      Many Afghan children attend schools
                                               workshop was held by the International       not formally recognised by the Ministry
By conducting a large number of inter-         Planned Parenthood Federation to train
views and cross-checking information we        volunteers of the Family Planning             Mahin is a young widow from
obtained a very rich picture of the lives      Association of Iran (FPA) in the tech-        Kandahar: “My eldest child is 12 and
and problems of some of the poorest            niques of FGD. Then, during August            my youngest is two years old. With
refugees. We identified the area in which      1988 and with the collaboration of the        their help, I make chains at home and
refugees face the most difficulties (in        FPA, we held a two-day training session       earn about 3,000 Rls. (60 cents) per
the south-eastern province of Sistan-          in FGD for nine Afghan refugee women.         day. People sometimes give me clothes
Baluchistan), and highlighted the              They would be the facilitators and note-      to bring home to wash. I cannot work
neglected issue of child labour. We were       takers for the discussions with groups        outside the house, because my children
also able to draw up a set of indicators       of their peers.                               are too young, and there is no one to
for vulnerability which included the ori-                                                    take care of them. I cannot get pista-
gin of the refugees (rural/urban), the         We decided to start with a general needs      chios for shelling, because one has to
number of people in the family, the            assessment survey among Afghan                leave an ID card with the merchant as
material and financial resources they          women in southern Tehran. The focus           security or have a guarantor and I have
had when they arrived, and the sex and         would be on job-skills, the problems of       neither.”
age of the head of household. We gath-
                                               working women, their need for educa-
ered a great deal of information on the
                                               tion, and their health problems. We also
types of work done by women and chil-                                                       of Education and run by the Afghans
                                               wanted to ask them to rank these issues
dren to supplement men’s increasingly                                                       themselves. There are at least 10 infor-
                                               in order of priority. About 60 Pashtun
insecure incomes.                                                                           mal Afghan schools in Mashad and
                                               and Hazara women participated in
                                                                                            about 24 in Teheran, serving from 50 to
                                               groups of 6-12 people. After the discus-
Limitations of individual                                                                   500 children each. NGOs such as
                                               sions, which lasted about two hours, the
                                                                                            Ockenden Venture and Global Partners
interviews                                     facilitators drew up conclusions based
                                                                                            have been supporting such schools for
                                               on the views which had been expressed
The individual interview approach                                                           over a year now with their own funds
                                               in the groups. These conclusions were
incurred a number of drawbacks:                                                             and some funding from UNICEF. They
                                               then checked again with a sample of the
                                                                                            have provided books and teaching mate-
(i) It was relatively time consuming,          women who had participated in the dis-       rials, and have conducted eye tests for
     which limits the number of people         cussions. Most of the research process       children and provided spectacles.
     who can be interviewed.                   was conducted by Afghan women them-          Ockenden Venture has also organised
(ii) The results and recommendations           selves, with ICRI staff only observing the   some teacher training. MSF France has
     were based on the interviewers’           discussions and writing up the final         been carrying out a school health project
     judgements of the refugees’ situa-        report. The refugees were enthusiastic at    in Mashad, and a local Afghan NGO
     tions rather than on what the             the opportunity to give their own views      (Relief Committee for Destitute Afghan
     refugees identified as their own prior-   and have the opportunity to shape deci-      Refugee Families) is helping to identify
     ities. A research method was needed       sions - even in a remote way - which         Afghan schools in Teheran and distrib-
     which would both allow more partici-      NGOs and others make on their behalf.        ute books. Many questions remain unan-
     pation by the refugees themselves,
                                                                                            swered as to why some children attend
     and also yield results from which                                                      these schools and others do not.
     more general conclusions - less
                                               (3) The results
     reliant on the situation of individual
     families - could be drawn.
                                               Women’s work                                  Amir, a 12 year old apprentice shoe-
                                                                                             maker: “When we heard that tempo-
                                               During our individual interviews, we          rary card holders can register at public
We needed to find out in more detail
                                               observed that in many refugee families        schools, I asked my father to enrol me
what NGOs could do to help these               Afghan men are no longer able to sup-         in the Iranian school nearby. He said
groups of Afghans. Both NGOs and               port their family by themselves. They         that it might be a trick to collect the
UNHCR are increasingly interested in           need women and children to contribute         temporary cards and that I had better
helping refugees to support themselves         to the family income.
                                                                                             continue at this [informal] school.”
through credit schemes. It was clear that
women needed opportunities to learn            From the interviews we were able to
skills so that they were not stuck in the      make detailed lists of the most common       Aspirations versus reality
most unskilled and low-paid work, but          types of work done by women and chil-
more information was needed on the             dren and the income they earn. Work          The aspirations of Afghan women and
obstacles to women’s work and the type         done at home includes shelling pista-        children contrast heavily with the reality
of skills which would be most useful to        chios, cleaning wool, making brooms,         of the back-breaking, repetitive and
them.                                          cleaning saffron, making chains and car-     poorly-paid jobs mentioned above. When
                                               pet weaving. Children usually start work     asked in the FGD study what kind of job
(2) Focus group discussions                    at an early age (sometimes as young as       skills they would like to be trained in,
                                               five years old). Once they reach school      the answers were: sewing, crocheting,
Focus group discussions (FGD) use spe-         age, those who can get into school study     sash weaving, making bags, weaving and
cific but open-ended questions put by a        about four hours a day at school and         embroidery. The Hazara women also
trained facilitator, to enable a group of      work between four and ten hours every        mentioned nursing, secretarial jobs,
people to express a variety of opinions        day.



 20    December 1998, 3                                                                                 FORCED MIGRATION review
teaching and flower arranging as their         We were also very surprised at the inten-
choices. All of these are skilled jobs         sity of frustration expressed by Pashtuns
which are better paid and pose less of a       in the focus groups at the limitations       Khodadad, a 16 year old
threat to health.                              imposed on them by their own culture,        boy, works at a perfume
                                               and their desire to break through these
Although we already knew from individ-         old customs. One Pashtun woman com-          bottle workshop: “We
ual interviews that Afghans do not have        mented “We want our culture to               came to Iran about 17
enough money to buy instruments for            improve: both boys and girls should
                                               work”. Another said, “We should have
                                                                                            years ago. My father has
their work, the FGD gave us a better
understanding of the constraints women         female doctors in Afghanistan”. The          been sick for more than
face. We discovered that the most com-         dynamics of the groups made it possible
                                               for women to express these views to
                                                                                            five years now and can-
mon reasons for taking poorly paid and
low-skilled work are illiteracy, being         their peers. It is unlikely that we would    not work very often. To
                                               have obtained such responses in an indi-
undocumented, having children to look                                                       help my family, I had to
after, and opposition from the husband         vidual interview by an unknown Iranian
or his family. The work has to be part-        woman interviewer.                           quit school for three years
time, home-based and not requiring a                                                        and work. Right now I
‘green card’. One obstacle which the           Conclusion
women identified also suggested its own
                                                                                            work in a workshop on
solution. They said that their lack of         Using focus group discussions in the         night shift from midnight to
familiarity with Iran, and particularly        context of understanding the problems
with job opportunities, means that they        and aspirations of urban Afghan
                                                                                            6am. Of the people work-
tend to take on the same jobs that other       refugees has given us a great deal of        ing on each shift, six are
Afghan women are already doing. It was         information to which we did not previ-
                                               ously have access. In particular, the fact
                                                                                            children under 14 years.
suggested that a job-search service
would enable them to access informa-           that the refugees were able to participate   The pay for the night shift
tion on other job opportunities.               in drawing up recommendations regard-
                                                                                            is the same as that of the
                                               ing the future work of NGOs was a very
Education: the top priority                    positive experience. It encourages the       day shift, that is about
                                               beneficiaries themselves to think about      5,000 Rls./day” (less
The data on priority needs obtained            their situation and to come up with
from our FGD survey gave us some sur-          solutions. It also gives the organisations   than a dollar).
prising results. Having seen the poverty       working with refugees a much clearer
of many refugee families at first hand,        picture of the hopes and
we expected Afghan women to put                fears of a refugee communi-
income-earning opportunities as their          ty. Past experience at ICRI
top priority. In fact the top priority iden-   has shown us that involving
tified by almost all the groups was edu-       the refugees them-
cation: for the Hazaras it was education       selves in decision
in general, but especially literacy; for the   making improves the
Pashtun women it was skills-training.          implementation
They all believed that they could              process, bringing about
improve their own lives if they had some       better results. This
education.                                     does not mean
                                               that one
In our individual interviews, most of the      method
women and children we had seen were            should
either illiterate or had very little educa-    replace the
tion. We had already noticed that when         other, but
asked about the future most children           rather that the
had high aspirations: they wanted to fin-      methods should
ish school and become teachers or doc-         be regarded as
tors. The women we interviewed on the          complementary.
other hand regarded their future as very
bleak. All the women stressed the impor-       We know that the
tance of education for their children,         single most impor-
picturing a much better future than their      tant factor which
own for their offspring. However, until        determines the living
the focus group discussions, we had no         conditions of
way of weighing the relative priority          refugees in Iran is
which they gave to education over other        their legal status.
needs, nor of asking them about their
                                                                                                                            Foroogh Foyouzat




aspirations.                                   However, the results
                                               of our research have



FORCED MIGRATION review                                                                             December 1998, 3   21
shown us that the refugees themselves
see many opportunities to improve their                                 newsnewsnewsnews
situation, even within the bounds of the
existing situation. We hope these results
will help NGOs to plan effective inter-
                                                                                          Visiting Fellowships
ventions which meet the aspirations of
                                                                                          Visiting Fellowships at the RSP are open
Afghan women.
                                                                                          to senior and mid-career practitioners
                                                                                          and policy makers who wish to spend a
Catherine Squire has worked with
                                                                                          period of study and reflection in a con-
refugees, mostly in nutrition and
                                                                                          ducive academic environment, and to
social service programmes, since
                                                                                          academics and other researchers who
1982. She has been working in
                                                                                          are working in fields related to forced
Iran since 1993 and with ICRI
                                                                                          migration. Each Fellow will normally be
since 1995.
                                                                                          assigned an academic adviser and will be
                                                                                          expected to undertake a specific pro-
Negar Gerami returned to Iran
                                                                                          gramme of self-directed study or
from Germany in 1991 and worked
                                                                                          research. Fellowships may be held for
for two years with the Iranian
                                                                                          one, two or three terms in any one acad-
Broadcasting Service as a freelance
                                                                                          emic year. There will normally be no
translator and English news
                                                                                          more than ten Visiting Fellows in resi-
announcer in the overseas depart-           Psychosocial responses to                     dence at the RSP at any one time.
ment.
                                            the refugee experience:
                                                                                          For more information, please
                                            training module update                        contact: The Visiting Fellowships
                                            The module is primarily aimed at both         Administrator, RSP, Queen Elizabeth
                                            local and international field workers, as     House, 21 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LA, UK.
                                            well as managers, administrators and          Tel: +44 1865 270265.
                                            policy makers in programmes of human-         Fax: +44 1865 270721.
                                            itarian assistance. The purpose of the        Email: Tania.Kaiser@qeh.ox.ac.uk
                                            module is to expose all field workers to
                                            the psychosocial aspects of their work,
                The Refugee                 rather than to train specialist psychoso-     New research project at
                Studies                     cial practitioners.
                                                                                          RSP : Responses and
                Programme’s                 Contributors are currently writing sec-       solutions to the human-
                                            tions on the nature of conflict and the
                Annual                      implications for appropriate psychoso-        itarian crisis in Kosovo
                Report                      cial responses, gender and forced migra-
                                                                                          This project has two dimensions: provid-
                                            tion, refugee children, communication
                1997-98                     and counselling skills for refugee work-      ing recommendations on the immediate
                                            ers, and community participation.             international response to the plight of
 Now available. Contact Corinne                                                           the civilian populations and exploring
 Owen, RSP (address on p2 or email:         The module, which will be available both      proposals for the future constitutional
 corinne.owen@qeh.ox.ac.uk)                 as a hard copy pack of teaching materi-       status of Kosovo that can form the basis
                                            als and in interactive digital format, will
                                                                                          of a negotiated settlement between local
                                            be piloted in April 1999 and available
                                                                                          actors. The project follows on from a
                                            for distribution in December 1999.
                                                                                          one-day workshop on the Kosovo crisis
                                            The project is funded by the Andrew           held on 18 May 1998 with the support of
                                            Mellan Foundation.                            the Department for International
                                                                                          Development and the Foreign &
                                            For more information, please con-             Commonwealth Office. The research will
                                            tact the Project Directors: Maryanne          be conducted by Michael Barutciski, RSP
                                            Loughry, RSP (address on p2;                  Research Fellow in International Law.
                                            maryanne.loughry@qeh.ox.ac.uk)
                                            and Alastair Ager, Queen Margaret             This 14-month project began in
                                            College, Edinburgh University
                                                                                          October 1998 and is being funded by
                                            (a.ager@mail.qmced.ac.uk)
                                                                                          the Department for International
                                                                                          Development. Contact: michael.
                                                                                          barutciski@qeh.ox.ac.uk



                                            newsnewsnewsnewsnewsnews
 22   December 1998, 3                                                                                FORCED MIGRATION review

				
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