Amid tensions over the presence of millions of Afghans in Iran, the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) has banned them from nearly half of all provinces.
Announcing the news on Saturday, Hamzeh Soleimani, director general for foreign nationals and immigrants’ affairs of the office of the governor of Kermanshah in western Iran told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that the ban includes Kermanshah Province.
Since March, authorities in Kermanshah Province have canvassed construction sites, green houses, horse stables and cattle farms where Afghans are usually employed, on nine different occasions, to identify, detain and expel “illegal foreign nationals”, Soleimani said.
The ban which follows protests and unrest in Meybod in the eastern Yazd Province and demands for the expulsion of Afghans, appears to apply to all Afghan citizens in 16 provinces irrespective of their immigration status.
Afghans, often referred to simply as ‘foreign nationals’ by officials and the media, make up the majority of immigrants in Iran.
A significant number of Afghan workers, as well as some employers who had hired them were arrested during the searches in Kermanshah Province, Soleimani said and urged people to report the employment of Afghan citizens in farms and construction sites to the authorities.
Iranian media say the ban includes the northwestern and western provinces of East Azarbaijan, West Azarbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Hamedan, Kordestan, Kermanshah, Ilam, and Lorestan, as well as the northern provinces of Gilan, and Mazandaran.
The southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, a major channel of Afghan immigration to Iran, and the southern Hormozgan province have also been designated as banned zones for all Afghans.
Only 780,000 Afghans living in Iran have official refugee status, leaving the majority undocumented.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in October that identity papers had been issued for more than one million Afghans with plans to include more. Vahidi had said in September that the country was home to an estimated five million Afghans.
Another government official, Mohsen Najafikhah, however, told the parliament in October that “foreign nationals” in Iran number over 8 million, or ten percent of the country’s population.
Some estimates suggest the Afghan population may have reached ten million since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.
The rapid growth of the Afghan population in Iran in the past two years has become controversial with some media and politicians alleging that authorities are actively encouraging the growth of the Afghan population and warning about a “threat to national security”.
In the past year Anti-Afghan sentiments have rapidly spread in Iran with some ultra-nationalists opposed to the Islamic Republic campaigning on social media for the expulsion of all Afghans on racial grounds.
On Friday, an angry mob of Iranians in Meybod torched the homes of Afghan citizens in the Afghan quarter of the city, known as Afghanabad, forcing the police and security forces to barricade the area to prevent further violence. Another video posted on X showed Afghans fleeing the city in large groups towards the surrounding desert.
Nearly one in eight of the residents of the city of 90,000 are reportedly Afghans.
The incident occurred following the reported death of an Iranian teenager and the injury of another in a street altercation with Afghans. In response, locals took to the streets, expressing their grievances during Friday prayers and calling for the apprehension of the culprits as well as the expulsion of all Afghans from the city.
According to social media accounts, the city's appointed Friday imam, a Revolutionary Guard commander, and the city's governor, who attempted to pacify the demonstrators, were specifically targeted and assaulted.