The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is increasingly concerned about outbursts of violence directed against Afghans living in Iran, a spokesman for the agency said today.
"Last week, clashes took place on the outskirts of Tehran when anti-Afghan protesters rampaged in the Pishva neighbourhood south of the capital, leaving a number of people injured," spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. He noted that UNHCR has raised its concerns about this and other recent attacks with the Iranian Interior Ministry.
Mr. Redmond painted a stark picture of overt incitement by demonstrators. "During the protests in Pishva, local residents shouted 'death to Afghans,'" he said, adding that, "similar slogans were scrawled on the walls of buildings in the area."
According to the spokesman, Afghans living in Pishva are said to be frightened of going outdoors, with many of the community's men now too afraid to gather at the local informal job market to seek work.
UNHCR blames the clashes largely on economic tensions. "The recent outbreaks of violence seem to have been caused by rising anger among some sections of the Iranian population who believe that Afghans are taking their jobs," said Mr. Redmond.
The agency noted that for two decades, Iran and neighbouring Pakistan have sheltered millions of Afghan refugees, who comprise the world's biggest refugee population at some 4 million people. "Iran has been among the world's most generous hosts to refugees," Mr. Redmond said. He expressed hope that the violent incidents would subside, and that UNHCR's regular screening and voluntary repatriation operations in Iran would resume shortly.