Traditionally, there has been little immigration to Iran, with the exception of Shi'a Muslims coming from Iraq. There has been some emigration to Europe and the United States, particularly by Iranians who were studying overseas at the time of the revolution of 1979. About 100,000 Kurds were repatriated from Iran to Iraq during the mid-1970s after the suppression of a Kurdish rebellion in the latter country. Between 1980 and 1990, however, an increased number of Shi'a Muslims fled Iraq because of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars; at the end of 1992, 1,250,100 were refugees in Iran. Perhaps 2.8 million Afghan refugees moved to Iran after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. About 200,000 returned in 1992, and about 2.1 million remained in mid-1993. At least 50,000 refugees from Azerbaijan had fled to Iran by late 1993 to escape Armenian occupation. In the fall of 1996, 65,000 Iraqi Kurds entered Iran due to fighting between two different groups of Iraqi Kurds.
According to 1999 statistics, Iran has the largest refugee population in the world, hosting some 2 million refugees. There are an estimated 1.4 million Afghan refugees, 580,000 Iraqis, and 40,000 refugees from Tajikistan, Bosnia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Only 5% of refugees live in 30 designated camps, while the rest have integrated themselves in cities and villages around the country. An increase in unemployment and faltering economic conditions have resulted in increased pressure for refugees to return to their homelands. However, due to current conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, chances for significant repatriation remain poor. The Iranian government feels a heavy economic and social burden and believes the international community should share more responsibility for these refugees.
In 2000 the net migration rate was -1.4 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the immigration level as too high, but the emigration level as satisfactory. The total number of migrants in the country was 2,321,000 in 2000, down from 3,809,000 ten years earlier.