Social and economic context of migration

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country of origin, transit and destination for migrants and refugees. Two factors supporting this are its strategic geographic location and the ongoing conflict and economic disparities within the subregion. In terms of migration outflows, the country notably experiences out-migration and in-migration simultaneously (IOM 2009). In addition, its location makes it prone to cross-border migration by migrants seeking to reach third countries, primarily in Europe and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).2

Socio-political events in the subregion have led to the development of a ‘revolving door’ phenomenon in the Islamic Republic of Iran, characterized by the departure and return of Afghan and Iraqi migrants in tandem with the escalation of conflict and instability in neighbouring countries. Migration flows to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran are to a large extent economically driven (Monsutti 2006).

Although a large number of Iranians live abroad, especially in Europe and North America, remittances do not appear to play a significant role in the country’s gross national product (GNP) (IOM 2009). According to the World Bank (2011), remittance flows to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2009 stood at slightly more than $1 billion. However, a study conducted in 2003 estimated that more than half of the total remittances to the country were transmitted through informal channels (El Qorchi and others 2003) and consequently remained unrecorded in official statistics.

Since 2001, there has been a marked shift in the methods of migration with the rise of human smuggling networks operating between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. More than 90 per cent of Afghans returning from the Islamic Republic of Iran admitted to migrating clandestinely while close to 80 per cent had received help by a smuggler (Majidi and Davin 2008).

Irregular migration results in significant revenue loss for the Governments of Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan as migrants forfeit visa fees for legal travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Estimates indicate that the overall amount migrants pay to smugglers in one year is about $90 million, while revenue lost by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to clandestine operations is about $221 million (see table 1).


2 The member States of the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.