Inter-sectoral Cooperation for Afghan Refugee Education in Iran

Reem Shammout and Olivier Vandecasteele

Forced Migration Review, Issue 60, March 2019


There are up to two million undocumented Afghans living in Iran. While documented refugee children have always been able to access public education in Iran, undocumented Afghan children were only granted access to primary education in 2015 through the ‘blue card’ system. The new system removed legal barriers to education, leading to a surge in enrollments. However, other obstacles remain: the public education system is overstretched with overcrowded classrooms, inadequate educational materials and equipment, and school infrastructure in disrepair; many families can’t afford education-related costs, despite the priority they place on education; and many children find it difficult to continue to secondary and higher education.

The article describes the integrated approach of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to support undocumented Afghan families to access education, which encompassed: refurbishment of school infrastructure (buildings and WASH facilities); provision of educational materials and equipment; involving Afghan and Iranian parents, for example through hygiene promotion and life skills training (helping them to understand the value of education, particularly for girls); legal assistance to undocumented Afghan families to help them obtain a blue card and cash assistance to help them meet costs associated with documentation and schooling; enrollment of children in ‘catch up’ literacy and numeracy classes (through a government program); and helping undocumented families secure livelihood opportunities for adult members or establish their legal status (increasing the likelihood that children remain in school). The success of this approach has been attributed to: decentralized implementation at provincial level; concentrating initial implementation in a small number of locations; and effective collaboration and information sharing across technical specialties. The major outstanding challenges are the lack of adequate school infrastructure to accommodate all children, and persistent financial barriers faced by families, with many relying on their children for income generation.