Media in Tehran are increasingly sounding alarms about the rapid growth of the Afghan population in Iran, which is estimated to be between five to ten million now.
The conservative Jomhuri Eslami reported last week that unofficial statistics indicate that last fall out of 300 babies born at the hospital of Kavar, a small town near Shiraz, capital of southern Fars province, 297 belonged to Afghan families.
According to the newspaper, which is one of the Islamic Republic’s oldest, the latest statistics also show that the number of Afghans in the province has risen to 357,000 from 121,000 since the Taliban took over the Afghan government in August 2021.
Officials say hundreds of Afghans are entering Iran daily from the eastern borders. Less than one million Afghans in Iran have refugee status, and most of the rest are illegal immigrants.
“Security officials must concerned that the presence of so many foreign nationals will entail many threats [to national security],” Jomhuri Eslami wrote. Iranian authorities and some media usually refer to Afghan immigrants and refugees as “foreign nationals.”
The article, extensively republished by other newspapers and websites, also referred to the involvement of two Afghan national in an attack on Shahcheragh shrine and mausoleum in Shiraz on October 26, 2022. Both men were publicly hanged on July 8.
In an unattributed commentary in July, Aftab News, a news website close to former President Hassan Rouhani and the moderate conservative Moderation and Development Party, also warned about what appears to be a massive increase in the number of Afghans in Iran and claimed that authorities are actively encouraging the growth of the Afghan population.
Aftab News alleged that factors such as a lack of control at eastern borders of the country, issuing thousands of tourist visas daily 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, indicate “targeted planning” by the authorities.
This may refer to some hardliner media openly promoting acceptance of more Afghans in Iran to increase the country’s population as a solution to the falling birth rate among Iranians when the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)linked Tasnim news agency suggested in 2022.
Iran’s population growth rate has dropped to around 0.7 percent in the past few years.
“Acceptance of immigrants can be one of the key solutions to overcome the problem of [dwindling] population and workforce given the drop in the fertility rate in the country,” Tasnim said in an unattributed commentary entitled “Iran Forced to Accept Immigration of Foreign [Nationals] to Resolve Its [Dwindling] Population Problem” on May 19, 2020.
“The closeness of beliefs and culture of neighboring countries, particularly Afghanistan, has provided an extraordinary opportunity to Iran in this regard,” the commentary said, presumably with an eye to accepting more Afghan Hazaras who are Shiites like Iranians.
Hazaras make up the biggest ethnic group among Afghan immigrants to Iran followed by Sunni Tajiks, Pashtuns and Uzbeks.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has repeatedly stressed that the country’s population should rise to at least 150 million, presumably to strengthen the only Shiite-ruled Muslim state.
Faraz Daily, an online newspaper, reported last week that there are now transportation companies that move commercial consignments and belongings of Afghan household to Tehran within a week from Kabul and Herat.
This, the newspaper argued “has been causing concerns in Iran because the illegal residence of these immigrants, in the absence of laws and policies to regulate their presence, will lead to numerous political, social and even security challenges,” Faraz Daily wrote.