Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.
In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone. Refugees faced restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions or bars from entering 28 provinces according to UNHCR.
Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had to either repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields. Several journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.
Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile abroad. Many citizens practiced self-imposed exile to express their beliefs freely or escape government harassment.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government had a mixed record in providing support for refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and some from Iraq. The government is responsible for refugee registration and status determination and has granted registration to 960,000 Afghan and 28,000 Iraqi refugees under a system known as “Amayesh,” through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as legally registered refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services, and facilitate the issuance of work permits to refugees. Additionally, approximately 1.4 million “non-refugee” Afghans held visas under a Joint Action Plan for formerly undocumented Afghans. A large number of undocumented Afghans lived in the country and were unable to register as official refugees or visa holders. During a visit to Tehran in April, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner George Okoth-Obbo stated the number of unregistered Afghans was about three million.
Supreme Leader Khamenei stated on November 22 “Iran has for years hosted three million Afghans, and has provided them with the conditions to study and live in Iran, and has, with complete tolerance, adopted a humane attitude towards migrants.” The HRW reported that the government continued its mistreatment of Afghans in the country, including deportations, physical abuse by security forces, and restricted access to education or jobs.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status. Afghans not currently registered under the Amayesh system that had migrated to Iran in the past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied asylum or access to register with the United Nations as refugees for resettlement. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers felt pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.
Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghan refugees and sometimes threatened them with refoulement. According to a HRW report, government military recruiters threatened unregistered Afghan refugees with deportation or barred them from registering as refugees if they did not join military forces when asked to do so.
Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits as part of the Amayesh system were able to work. NGO sources reported that cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain due to steep annual renewal fees.
Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders have access to primary education and received primary health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. Under a 2015 agreement, they also had access to the Salamat Insurance Program and benefit from a health insurance package for hospitalization similar to Iranian nationals, and those with qualifying “special diseases” got comprehensive coverage. The supreme leader announced in 2015 that all Afghans, regardless of status, should have access to school. According to UNHCR’s website, more than 350,000 Afghan and Iraqi students (both registered and unregistered) were enrolled in the 2015-2016 academic year. According to media reporting on schools for Afghan children, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education. The government also sometimes imposed fees for children of registered refugees to attend public schools or required unregistered children to have legal immigration status.
There were barriers to marriage between citizens and displaced Afghans. Authorities require Afghans to obtain documentation from their embassy or government offices in Afghanistan to register their marriage in the country, according to media reporting. The Family Protection Law states, “any foreigner who marries an Iranian woman without the permission of the Iranian government will be sentenced to two to five years in prison plus a cash penalty.” Furthermore, authorities only considered the children born from such unions eligible for citizenship if the child’s father is a citizen and registers the child as his, leaving many children stateless.
Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.
Due to documentation restraints, there are no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons reside in the country. Stateless persons include those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They are subjected to inconsistent government policies and rely on charities, principally domestic, to provide medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.
Women may not directly transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses. Under a 2006 amendment to the Nationality Law, only children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who reside in Iran for 18 years and whose parent’s marriage is officially registered with the government are eligible to apply for citizenship. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother due to limitations on citizenship transmission.