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MSF in Iran, 2002
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New project assists vulnerable refugees
The Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) is host to some 2.5 million Afghan and 200,000 Iraqi refugees: the largest refugee population in the world. Treated at best as economic migrants and at worst as drug traffickers, every pressure is being put on the Afghans to return home, particularly since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
MSF assists Afghan refugees in the border provinces of Khorasan and Sistan-va-Baluchestan, the latter being Iran's least developed region and the main entry point for the refugees.
In October 2001, MSF opened a new project in a mainly Afghan-populated section of Zahedan. Medical care is provided through a clinic, mobile clinics and a home-visit program. Both here and in the older program in Mashad, the focus is on improving refugee access to medical care (3,000 consultations are given monthly in each place). Food aid and basic necessities are also provided for the most vulnerable families in the harsh winter months.
The number of Afghans seeking refuge in Iran rose sharply with the late 2001 bombing campaign. The Iranian government responded by closing its border and setting up the Makaki and Mile 46 camps to "house" some 11,000 of the would-be refugees in Nimruz province, just inside Afghan territory. MSF supported the Iranian Red Crescent's efforts by providing medical care until the camps' closure in May 2002, reopening the Zaranj hospital (30 beds and 3,000 consultations per month) and referring the most serious cases to Iranian hospitals, as well as providing nutritional care, clean water and sanitation.
MSF has also been active in bearing witness to the treatment of Afghan refugees in Iran and in making public appeals for the authorities to remove obstacles to aid operations.
MSF has worked in Iran since 1995.