Iran, MENA Refugee Crisis and Its Consequences

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

The breakout of the refugees and migrants crisis in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) is not a new phenomenon for countries like Iran. Iran, as a country situated on a crossroads connecting east and west and north and south of the world, has been receiving refuges from various countries for many years and has had cultural, racial, ethnic and religious coexistence with them. The Islamic Republic of Iran is currently playing host to one of the biggest and the most lasting refugee populations in the world. For decades, Iran has been receiving refugees from such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan and other countries. The number of refugees and migrants that have sought a safe haven in Iran as a result of the developments that have taken place around the country has been estimated to exceed hundreds of thousands.

According to the European Commission, the current global crisis of refugees and migrants in the MENA region, which is a direct result of social, political and military developments that took place following the Arab Spring in this region, is the gravest refugee crisis facing Europe since the end of the World War II. From the viewpoint of Iran, the ongoing refugee crisis stems from inefficient policies of Arab and non-Arab actors in the region and a consequence of interventions by transregional actors in the internal affairs of MENA countries. During the past decade, Iran has frequently and in a documented manner issued warnings about fundaments and negative consequences of interventions by transregional powers in local structures of countries situated in MENA region. Therefore, the threat posed by extremism, ISIS and terrorism is among the most important reasons behind the recent crisis of refugees and migrants in MENA. This crisis is also one of the main consequences of diversion in ideas, process and results of the Arab Spring.

The United Nations officials have recently announced that more than half of the 23-million population of Syria has become refugees and migrants. Before the refugee crisis began and concurrent with the initiation of strategic crises following the Arab Spring in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Iran had issued serious warnings about possible spread of these crises to neighboring countries [of MENA], including to European Union and elsewhere in the West.

Having 15 neighboring countries with very complicated foreign and domestic policies, and with profound historical ties and profound strategic influence in such security complexes as the Middle East, the Levant, South Caucasus, Central Asia, Persian Gulf and South Asia, Iran has been always among the most important victims in the issue of refugees and migrants. However, certain regional rivals of Iran have recently taken a projectionist approach by introducing Iran and Russia as the main reasons behind the recent crisis of refugees and migrants, though the fundaments and principles of this issue have been basically challenged by Iran. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also announced recently that the main reasons behind the refugee crisis are those countries that attacked Iraq. ISIS came into being after the West was defeated in Iraq. As a result, intervention in [regional] countries’ internal affairs has been the main reason behind the refugee crisis.

In view of developments that have taken place in MENA during the past three decades, the reasons, scope and consequences of the recent crisis of refugees and migrants in this region can be summarized as follows: weakness of the civil society, local structures, social assets and the nation-state building process in MENA leads to foreign intervention in this region. As a result of foreign intervention, military and security solutions take precedence over political and local conflict settlement solutions. In the third stage, the region enters a phase of military interventions and proxy wars. Then, foreign military interventions give birth to terrorist acts. The consequence of terrorist acts is the weakening of sovereignty and collapse of those structures that build nation-states, as a result of which, widespread and contagious anarchy and permanent insecurity dominates the region. As a result of the anarchic situation, power structures and political systems fall apart and more complicated crises such as extremism, networked terrorism, and the crisis of refugees and migrants come about whose untoward consequences will continue to affect regional and international security for decades and centuries, turning the Middle East into a permanent focus of international conflicts.

From an Iranian viewpoint, unlike what such regional actors as Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates believe, the solution to the recent [refugee] crisis is not military attack by the West-led coalition on infrastructure and legal institutions of some important countries in the region, or collapse or lack of collapse of certain target political structures. The solution to the aforesaid crisis and its consequences for surrounding regions is restoration of stability to the region by declaring cease-fire among all belligerent sides, offering support for legal and legitimate power structures in the region, taking advantage of diplomacy and regionalism, and serious attention to regional roles of major actors in MENA region. Under the current tumultuous conditions in MENA, and in line with the emerging and forthcoming world order, and also in view of the existing realities, the crisis of refugees and migrants will be among the most important problems facing MENA whose scope and consequences will continue to profoundly affect the security complex of the West and the European Union for decades and even centuries to come.

The crisis of refugees and migrants in MENA is a world-class issue with global dimensions and consequences. The Iranian message for [the resolution of] the crisis of refugees and migrants in MENA within framework of international management system, is to find the roots of this problem on the basis of local, nonbelligerent, and nonmilitary solutions, and basic rejection of the ideas of ISIS and other extremist and military groups in addition to stopping the flow of arms, money and manpower to terrorists, violent groups and supporters of ISIS. Taking advantage of the experiences of the Iranian model of coexistence with refugees and migrants based on a model of multiculturalism, racial tolerance and recourse to regional political and diplomatic solutions, in addition to focusing on broad-based dialogue and comprehensive talks among involved parties can be added to the above solutions. Taking advantage of cultural capacities, civil society tools and influence of international security partners in line with finding a political solution to this issue is also considered important and essential.

Key Words: Iran, Refugee Crisis, Consequences, Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), ISIS, Extremist Groups, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Transregional Actors Internal Affairs, Proxy Wars, Diplomatic Solutions, Khoshandam

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*Photo Credit:, Balkanist Magazine