By SOMAYEH MALEKIAN, ABC NEWS
(TEHRAN, Iran) — Writing down her dreams in her diary notebook was the first thing Samaneh, a 16-year-old undocumented Iranian-Bengali, did after she learned she might officially get an Iranian ID.
“My daughter was over the moon when I told her the law was changed and she could get Shenasnameh [an Iranian official ID card] through me. All she wants is to go to school and to the gym,” Samaneh’s mother told ABC News. She, like others interviewed in the story, did not want her name and her daughter’s full name mentioned for personal reasons.
Samaneh is one of at least one million undocumented children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who have had many challenges in accessing education, medical and other services because they were not recognized as Iranian nationals.
The former laws of the Islamic Republic only allowed men to pass nationality, so children of foreign national fathers and Iranian women were not considered Iranian. But, with the new law which will goes into effect in two weeks, women will can confer their nationality to their children like men, the spokesman of the government Ali Rabiei said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Most of the men with foreign nationalities who marry Iranian women are refugees from Iran’s neighboring countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, Fatemeh Ashrafi, head of Hami, an association for protection of refugee women and children, told ABC News.
“More than 100,000 Iranian women are married to [foreign men], mostly from neighboring countries,” Ashrafi said.
“I hope the news is true,” said Khaleghzadeh, a mother of five undocumented children to an Afghan father who still cannot believe the long ordeal of her children is over.
“If my children get Iranian IDs, they can go to work without being constantly worried about getting arrested and deported to Afghanistan,” she added.
As Ashrafi said, the law is as much about women’s rights as it is about refugees and their children. “This law helps women regain an important part of their rights,” she said.
“I can’t forget how terribly I was shocked when after my marriage I realized my children could not get Iranian ID despite the fact that I was Iranian,” Samaneh’s mother said. “I felt I wasn’t a full person.”
“I am happy that I can get my name registered at state schools like my other friends and can rejoin the kabaddi team,” Samaneh said. She was a member of the kabaddi team at the gym in her neighborhood, but could not stay with the team after they made it to the next round of the city champion league, as she was undocumented.
“Lack of access to free education or work permission is not the only problem my children have, they are tired of being constantly humiliated for having an Afghan father,” Khaleghzadeh said. “Now, they are happy that they can be recognized as Iranian.”
The pain of being seen as inferior is what many Afghans and children of Afghan refugees complain about in Iran.
“One of the toughest things I have to deal with on a daily basis is hiding the nationality of my father. People would think of me as a lesser person if they realized my dad was Bengali,” Samaneh said.
However, Ashrafi believes that the social discrimination against non-Iranians has historical reasons and is not a problem that can be solved merely by changing a law. “It is a deeper issue that needs a rather long-term cultural and social approach. This law is not going to help the wrong with that social damage,” she said.
Khaleghzadeh has a 25-year-old undocumented pregnant daughter, also married to an undocumented Afghan refugee, who does not have a work permit in Iran. “If she can get my Iranian nationality, then she can pass it to her baby, too,” she said. “At least they can get the cash subsidies from the government for the times her husband does not work,” she added.
Iran distributes monthly cash subsidies of about $2.50 per person. The humble amount still means a lot to families with no income in destitute areas of the country including border provinces like Sistan and Baluchistan, home to many families with Iranian mothers and Afghan refugee fathers.
Over a million Afghan refugees are officially registered in Iran. The number of undocumented Afghans is about 2.5 million, the government spokesperson said.
“Many of such marriages are a result of the poverty of families of these women in border provinces. Around 80% of women married to refugees in Iran are illiterate or barely literate and live in the slums. They are hardly aware of their rights, so they marry refugees sometimes for a small sum of money that is not inconsiderable for these families,” Ashrafi said.
Although the implementation of the new law is the last hope of many families, experts believe it may cause problems as it contains some contradictions and loopholes.
“This bill is inconsistent with the Constitution, at some points. One of them is the ambiguity of the new regulations about dual nationals,” Ashrafi said.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not recognize dual nationality. It has left some families in obscurity whose children have already been granted their fathers’ nationality.
“Both of my daughters have Iraqi ID,” said Kolsum, an Iranian woman who lives with her Iraqi husband and her daughters in Baghdad. She is not sure if her daughters are eligible to get Iranian ID as they already are recognized as Iraqi nationals.
“I know the problem with dual nationality in Iran’s constitution, but I really like my daughters to get Shenasnameh, because it saves all the visa hassle we have at the border every time we want to visit my family in Iran,” she said.
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