Improving Health for Iran's Afghan Refugees

The Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran has one of the country’s lowest life expectancies, a statistic that sinks even lower for vulnerable populations such as Afghan refugees.

The remote Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, experiences high infant mortality rates, malnutrition, poor sanitary and health conditions and low levels of adult literacy. Declared a “no-go” region for foreign nationals in 2008, the Afghan families who continue to live in the province lead a tenuous existence. All refugees are entitled to receive public primary health care, but cost and distance from facilities limits their access. Large parts of the arid region lack potable water. Many refugee families live in mud huts or tents. Open defecation is common.

Relief International has been working with this population since 2016, providing basic services such as health care, food security and sanitation and drinking water to 1,500 Afghan households in and around Zahedan city.

Low-wage jobs and a lack of education add to the cycle of poverty. Although roughly 20,000 refugee children are eligible to attend school, only 3,000 do, most of them boys. Afghan refugees make about $1.50 per day, putting basic items such as water and rent out of reach. A 20-liter/five-gallon jug of drinking water costs 500 Iranian Toman, or 15 cents. Monthly rent can cost $70 per month and comes without a toilet or running water.

With funding from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the support of Iran’s Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA), Relief International provides refugees with cash assistance to address urgent unmet needs for food and other necessities, and ensures pre-fabricated or rehabilitated housing. Working largely with female-headed households, families with many children or families with members who are elderly or disabled, RI offers mobile health clinics and safe, well-equipped reproductive health centers. RI experts guide construction of water systems and public toilets and support efforts to secure civil documentation for refugees.