The delivery of aid to millions of Afghan refugees and flood victims in Iran is at risk because banks are refusing to transfer money to aid agencies due to sanction fears. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) will run out of cash and be forced to suspend relief operations by mid-August if a solution is not found in the coming days.

“Humanitarian organisations are left hamstrung by politically motivated sanctions that now punish the poorest. We have now, for a full year, tried to find banks that are able and willing to transfer money from Western donors to support our work for Afghan refugees and disaster victims in Iran, but we are hitting brick walls on every side,” said Secretary-General of NRC Jan Egeland.

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Iran are so comprehensive that banks are unwilling to facilitate transfers for humanitarian work. If all bank channels are blocked, then so is the delivery of critical aid to vulnerable people.

“We will run out of cash in two weeks and will no longer be able to provide relief to poor Afghan families. Norwegian, European and other banks are too afraid of U.S sanctions to transfer the money that European governments have given for our vital aid work,” Egeland explained.

More than three million Afghans, one of the world’s largest refugee populations, are living in Iran, and some of them have been there for the past four decades. In addition, 10 million vulnerable men, women and children are trying to recover from the effects of devastating floods in March. Many are critically dependent on humanitarian aid for access to food, water and shelter.

“Refugee families are already skipping meals due to the growing economic crisis. They are selling the few assets they have to cover basic costs. Many Afghans that had some work in tailoring have been laid off because of sanctions that led to workshop closures,” he added.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is the largest of only five international NGOs working in Iran along with the UN. All aid organisations are impacted by the consequences of existing sanctions.

“The U.S. and European donor governments must find ways to enable humanitarian organisations to operate. We need clear arrangements that will assure banks that they can move donor money into Iran for humanitarian purposes without fear of legal penalties. We need a solution that will prevent millions of vulnerable people from slipping deeper into emergency levels of poverty and hardship.”

Facts and figures:

  • A total of 10 million Iranians, 12 per cent of total population, were affected by floods in March. Two million people are in need, 365,000 people in emergency shelter (OCHA).
  • NRC assisted 81,850 people in Iran, including Afghan refugees in 2018.
  • One million recognised refugees in Iran apply for their renewed refugee status this month but without assistance, the most vulnerable could miss the window and lose their status.
  • Most Afghans work in construction and rely on the real estate industry which has slowed. Real estate transactions dropped 65 per cent compared to last year.
  • Some flood victims are suffering in gruelling heat conditions as many are still sleeping in tents with no refrigeration or cooling facilities.
  • According to our staff on the ground, the price of medicine, if available, has shot up and medical treatments have seen serious delays.
  • The unavailability of medicine especially for complex illnesses means desperate families purchase off the black market and often consume expired medication.
  • Without NGO assistance, some overcrowded schools won´t be expanded to accommodate the extra numbers and support the Iranian school system.
  • Children may not be able to attend school this coming new term because of spiralling household costs.