Let them study if you “really” care! Educational Inequalities Regarding Afghans in Iran

In spite of  Iranian government’s attempts to provide educational opportunities to Afghan refugee students, a generosity which has been one of the greatest assets for repatriating Afghans (Koepke, 2011), still Afghan children do not  have an equal right to a fully adequate educational opportunities as their Iranian peers. Although the children of legal immigrants are entitled to the same education as citizens under Iranian law, and refugees from the north and west of Afghanistan adjust quickly due to strong linguistic similarities between Farsi and their native Dari, however, undocumented Afghan children and those non-farsi speakers suffer from educational inequallites.

Until 2005, Afghan refugees had the option to enroll in either Iranian schools or in Afghan-run private schools, which also admitted undocumented Afghans. Certified by the Iranian government, these Afghan-run schools were registered with the Afghan Embassy in Tehran. In 2006, Afghan refugee children were permitted to enroll in Iranian schools only following the payment of basic school fees; Afghan-run schools were closed and undocumented Afghan children generally prohibited from enrolling in any school at all. In this period, a new government directive rescinded the existing residence permits of Afghan refugees, and many Afghan students were unable to get new documents before the beginning of the school year, thus they were forced to interrupt their schooling as the government reevaluated the legal status of its expanding community of refugees.

However, following a decree issued by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009, all Afghan children, including undocumented Afghans, have been permitted to enroll in Iranian schools once their family has registered with Iranian government Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs (BAFIA) and paid school fees. [1]

In early 2010, undocumented Afghan children who enrolled in 2009 were still able to continue with their education, but those who did not enroll in 2009 were no longer permitted to register and enroll. The last official figures from 2010-11 indicate an 8% annual rise in school enrollment among documented Afghan refugees. But mercurial government policies hindered Afghan pupils’ ability to attend school regularly, and many parents often turn to underground networks to ensure their children do not fall behind in their studies.

Currently, some progress has been made in order to facilitate the education of refugee children. In early 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei, The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued an order regarding education support for Afghan’s children. He stated, “Any Afghan children, even illegal immigrants without documents, who are present in Iran, should not be kept out of school and all of them must be enrolled in Iranian schools”(ACEI, 2015). Although this would be a great step forward in reducing discrimination against Afghans in Iran, yet there are institutional injustices that avoid actualization of such goals.

  • Currently, only Afghan children are permitted for school registration. There are no plans for Afghan adults who were deprived of education in the past years.
  • According to school administrators’ decision, Afghan students still have to pay fees even in public schools which are free for Iranians.
  • The vast majority of the children in Iran attend public schools, but these schools are far from equal. Public schools located in affluent, predominantly Iranian areas tend to have more modern facilities and better teaching resources than schools in marginal, less affluent areas, which means that economic status often determines the quality of education a student receives. Majority of Afghan students are not welcome in high-quality uptown schools and are rejected with false pretexts.
  • Registered in schools with unsatisfactory environmental conditions in marginal urban areas, Afghan students are often forced to attend second shifts of double-shift schools. Aside from unequal education opportunity, this will lead to more segregation of Afghans and Iranians.

[1] Following this decree, BAFIA also approved a UNICEF project for the basic education of 2,000 Afghan children in Karaj, Mashhad and Tehran. This project is being implemented by six Iranian NGOs and the agreement with BAFIA will be renewed on an annual basis.


ACEI. (2015, May 19). Education for Afghan Refugees in Iran | Association for Childhood Education International. Retrieved December 2, 2015, from https://acei.org/news/education-for-afghan-refugees-in-iran

Koepke, B. (2011). The situation of Afghans in the Islamic Republic of Iran nine years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Middle East Institute: Refugee Cooperation, 4. Retrieved from http://www.refugeecooperation.org/publications/afghanistan/pdf/03_koepke.pdf

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