Skopje (Brussels Morning) How does the Islamic Republic of Iran view the developments in Afghanistan? How are the Taliban seen in Tehran? And how big is the scope for Afghan refugees in Iran? The Iranian ambassador to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Seyed Mohammad Javad Rasouli, gives an overview to Brussels Morning.
Brussels Morning (BM): According to the UNCHR there are 780,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran, though it is estimated that around two million undocumented Afghans also reside here. How will the coming influx of refugees exacerbate the COVID crisis and what pressures exist due to current sanctions?
Seyed Mohammad Javad Rasouli (SMJR): The Islamic Republic of Iran is host to the largest number of Afghan refugees in the world (currently around four million, legally or illegally) and has provided free services to millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades. Thanks to the government’s progressive and inclusive policies, refugees have been given access to education, health and livelihoods opportunities – helping them thrive, not just survive. It is estimated that 96% of refugees in Iran live in cities, towns and villages side by side with the Iranian community, while Just 4% live in 20 (separate) settlements.
Due to recent development in Afghanistan, a flood of Afghan refugees entered our country illegally, which led to a greater prevalence of the Delta (variant) in Iran.
We have spent billions of dollars on immigrant management over four decades but as you know, illegal U.S sanctions and European countries’ compliance with them have reduced Iran’s ability to manage immigrants.
If immigrants do not receive the expected services in Iran due to lack of resources, they will certainly seek to leave Iran and move to Europe.
Therefore, Europe must fulfill its obligations in this regard for its own security and stability. If this trend continues, we will not certainly be able to provide the necessary services for the new wave of migrants. Lack of assistance from European countries, human rights, and immigration organisations to manage the new wave of refugees will lead to irreparable damage.
BM: Does Iran seek to normalise relations with an Afghan government likely led by the Taliban, a Sunni-based extremist group? Are there concerns that the Taliban will bring back legitimacy in the region to groups like Al Qaeda or Daesh?
SMJR: I hope that the Taliban will be committed to its responsibilities and obligations to the people of Afghanistan and the international community. The type of future relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the Taliban depends on the policy they will choose toward the people of Afghanistan and different ethnic and political groups in forming an inclusive government.
BM: Are there special protections being discussed for the Afghan Hazara community?
SMJR: Hazaras are part of Afghan society and must find their place in the political and social structure of Afghanistan. From a neighbourhood point of view, the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided all its resources to the people and government which was approved by the Afghan people for the past four decades, and continues to stand by the people of Afghanistan.
BM. What is the Iranian position on the current wall being built across the Turkish/ Iranian border and how will this affect the nation as many Afghans likely attempt to reach Turkey through this passage?
SMJR: The Afghan crisis has various regional and global dimensions. Countries in the region, especially Muslim countries, must act in accordance with Islamic and humanitarian principles in the face of developments in Afghanistan. Building a wall cannot be a constructive measure to help the people of Afghanistan. Of course, the responsibility of Islamic countries does not negate the need for the international community, especially European countries, to play a role in helping Afghanistan.
BM: There is a perceived power vacuum in terms of regional relations in which both Russia and China both seem to be attempting to exploit. How does Iran read this evolving situation?
SMJR: The current situation in Afghanistan is the result of a power vacuum in that country. The US regime is directly responsible for this situation, which, through covert diplomacy, sacrificed the Afghan people for its own interests and caused this situation by fleeing irresponsibly. The Islamic Republic of Iran, along with its partners, including China and Russia, is closely following the developments in Afghanistan and believes that the best course of action for foreign actors is to persuade Afghan internal forces to return to the negotiating table and resume political talks.
BM: The Taliban say they will respect the human rights of women in the country based on sharia law, how does an Iranian view these reassurances?
SMJR: I believe that the future government of Afghanistan should be determined through inter-Afghan dialogue with all political groups, including the Taliban, in a way that the achievements of people over the past four decades, including the rights of ethnic, religious minorities and women to be respected. There is no doubt that the political and religious leaders of Afghanistan are more aware and will pay more attention to the wishes of their people than we are.
At the end let me say, 20 years of the U.S occupation brought Afghanistan nothing but death and destruction. It’s now a historic opportunity for Afghan leaders to put an end to their people’s plight by ending violence and forming an inclusive government. Iran stands with the brotherly nation of Afghanistan.