A news website in Iran has claimed that authorities are encouraging the growth of the Afghan population with incentives such as subsidized energy and food. 

In an unattributed commentary earlier this month, Aftab News in Tehran said millions of Afghan immigrants consume at least $5b of around $90 to 100 billion annual subsidies that the government is spending to keep fuel, other energy and food prices down. The website suggested that this is only one of the ways in which the authorities are encouraging Afghans to stay in Iran. 

The article suggested that the Islamic Republic might be facilitating Afghan immigration as a remedy to the problem of population decline. “We should not start to import a big population that lacks national and religious [conformity with the Iranian population] under the pretext that the country’s population may decline within the next few decades,” it said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei believes efforts to increase the country's population are among the most urgent duties and essential policies of the Islamic Republic as the main Shia government in the Muslim world. 

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei holding a baby

Aftab News is a website close to former President Hassan Rouhani and the moderate conservative Moderation and Development Party. 

“It is not difficult to understand that the presence of foreign nationals is highly beneficial to some segments of the state who can use these immigrants to serve their political and ideological interests, [particularly] in areas where Iranians are less inclined to participate,” the commentary said. 

Iranian authorities usually refer to Afghan immigrants and refugees as ‘foreign nationals’. 

“This is a very vague statement, but it is probably suggesting that authorities are hoping that immigrants, Shiite Afghans in particular, will fight for the regime should there be a war as some of them, the Fatemiyoun brigade, fought for the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, because recruiting Iranians to fight in such wars in becoming more and more difficult,” a political analyst who asked not to be quoted by name told Iran International. 

Thousands of Afghans fleeing the economic hardships under the Taliban enter Iran daily from official border points or illegally from other areas along the 900 km border to find work in Iran to support their families back home or to continue their journey towards Europe. 

In April 2021 Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said one million more Afghans had entered Iran since the Taliban took power in August the previous year, bringing the number of refugees and economic migrant to five million. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Only 780,000 of Afghans residing in Iran are recognized as refugees. Most other Afghans are considered economic migrants who have been an important workforce in Iran.

Afghan immigrants in Iran

The article also claimed that the number of Afghans has uncharacteristically increased in several Iranian cities including Qom where it said Afghans have been given the right to legally purchase property. Qom in central Iran is home to Iran's largest religious seminaries where many foreign nationals including Shia Afghans study. 

Allowing Afghans to buy property in Qom, it suggested, is proof that there is no resolve in related government agencies to control the Afghan immigration to Iran. 

The article also alleged that lack of control at eastern borders of the country, issuing thousands of tourist visas every day when applicants do not intend to return to their home country, automatic renewal of tourist, pilgrimage and other types of visas, elimination or reduction of cash fines for illegal entry and stay, illegal immigrants’ easy access to various services including education and healthcare “indicate targeted planning.” 

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