Assessing Refugee Poverty Using Capabilities Versus Commodities: The Case of Afghans in Iran


  • Mitra Naseh Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work
  • Miriam Potocky Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work
  • Shanna L. Burke Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work
  • Paul H. Stuart Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work



Refugee, multidimensional poverty, absolute poverty, income poverty


This study is among the first to calculate poverty among one of the world’s largest refugee populations, Afghans in Iran. More importantly, it is one of the first to use capability and monetary approaches to provide a comprehensive perspective on Afghan refugees’ poverty. We estimated poverty using data collected from a sample of 2,034 refugee households in 2011 in Iran. We utilized basic needs poverty lines and the World Bank’s absolute international poverty line for our monetary poverty analyses and the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for our capability analyses of poverty. Findings show that nearly half of the Afghan households were income-poor, approximately two percent of the households had less than USD 1.25 per person per day, and about 28% of the surveyed households were multidimensionally deprived. Results suggest that 60% of the income-poor households were not deprived from minimal education, health, and standards of living based on the MPI criteria, and about 32% of the multidimensionally deprived households were not income-poor. These findings call for more attention to poverty measurement methods, specifically for social workers and policy makers in the field, to gain a more realistic understanding about refugees’ wellbeing.

Author Biographies

Mitra Naseh, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work

Mitra Naseh is a PhD student and graduate assistant at the Florida International University (FIU), Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work (RSCPHSW). Her research is focused on risk and resilience factors of refugees’ wellbeing. For over seven years, she worked with vulnerable populations, specifically refugees in Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations (UN) in the Middle East and south Asia before joining the FIU graduate program in 2016.

Miriam Potocky, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work

Dr. Miriam Potocky is an internationally-recognized expert on refugee resettlement. She has authored over 50 publications, including the ground-breaking Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants (Columbia University Press). Dr. Potocky’s work on refugees has been funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, the International Rescue Committee, and the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services.  She is currently the principal investigator for “Project MIRACLE: Motivational Interviewing for Refugee Adaptation, Coping, and Life Enhancement,” funded by The Lois and Samuel Silberman Fund. Dr. Potocky teaches courses on social work with immigrants and refugees, social work with diverse populations, research methodology, practice evaluation, and quantitative data analysis. Among numerous awards and honors, Dr. Potocky has the distinction of being the first and only woman in the history of the FIU School of Social Work to earn the status of full professor. 

Shanna L. Burke, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work

Dr. Shanna L. Burke is an assistant professor in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. Burke’s current research investigates genetic and psychosocial risk and protective factors associated with the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Her research analyzes clinical, neuropathological and genetic data collected by sites across the United States. Burke recently assisted with a community-based investigation to promote oral health in nursing home populations and is the co-investigator in a national pilot investigation of successful recruitment strategies in National Institutes of Health funded clinical studies involving human subjects. Dr. Burke has experience in examining entitlement enhancements for neurodevelopmental conditions in order to provide evidence for adding new conditions to the Social Security Administration’s Compassionate Allowance Initiative. She has taught courses on research methodology and gerontology at FIU.

Paul H. Stuart, Florida International University, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work

Professor Paul H. Stuart earned an M.S.W. at the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. in history and a Ph.D. in history and social welfare at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has worked as a social worker in public welfare, recreation services, health care, and community mental health. He has served as a clinical social worker in the Indian Health Service, U.S. Public Health Service, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Stuart had over 30 years of teaching experience in South Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Alabama, before joining the FIU faculty in 2007. His research has focused on the history of Indian-white relations in the United States, the history of social welfare, and the history of the social work profession. He is the author of several books, including The Indian Office: Growth and Development of an American Institution, 1865-1900 (UMI Research Press, 1979) and Nations within A Nation: Historical Statistics of American Indians (Greenwood Press, 1987), in addition to numerous articles and chapters in books. He co-edited the Encyclopedia of Social Welfare History in North America (Sage, 2005), with John M. Herrick of Michigan State University. He has been active as a reviewer and editorial board member for scholarly journals and is currently Archives Editor for the Journal of Community Practice. At FIU, Stuart teaches courses in social welfare policy and services, including SOW 3232, SOW 3233, and SOW 5235.


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