While Iranians bear the brunt of Donald Trump’s visa ban, which came into force last week, international officials say the Islamic Republic has quietly emerged as one of the most generous towards refugees.
“The leadership demonstrated by the Iranian government has been exemplary in hosting refugees and keeping borders open,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, who heads the UN High Commissioner for Refugees team in Tehran.
“It’s a story that’s not told often enough.”
Iran has been sheltering a million registered Afghans for almost four decades, and NGOs estimate there are some two million more living under the radar.
That’s the fourth-largest refugee population in the world, the UN says.
Trump’s new visa ban on six mostly Muslim nations will have a particularly tough impact on the one million Iranians living and studying in the US, as well as their families.
Foreign NGO workers have noted the irony that Iran is targeted by the ban while it continues to deal with huge numbers who have fled an American-led conflict.
Dhanapala highlighted the 2015 decree by Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei ordering schools to take in all Afghan children, documented or not — a move that left authorities scrambling to build the equivalent of 15,000 new classrooms.
“We’ve also worked with the government on incorporating refugees into a government-sponsored health insurance scheme which is a ground-breaking development not just for Iran but globally for refugees,” Dhanapala said.