Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghans Still Heading for Iran

Despite the dangers, tens of thousands continue to seek a better future across the border.
By Safiullah Amiri

Abdul Ahad Hamdard, a 22-year-old from Farah in western Afghanistan, is preparing to make the risky crossing from Nimroz province into Iran in the hope of finding work.

He said he was fully aware of the dangers that lay ahead, from falling victim to people traffickers to exploitation by unscrupulous employers in Iran.

“This path is very risky for young people, and I have seen for myself that many youths have lost their lives along this dangerous route,” he continued.

But Hamdard said that, unable to find work in Farah to support him and his family, he had been left with no choice but to seek opportunities abroad.

Officials in the border province of Nimroz say that the flood of Afghans leaving for Iran shows no sign of slowing, with up to 1,000 crossing each day.

Khalid Satar, the spokesman for the governor of Nimroz, said that some of the migrants were as young as 14, driven by a combination of factors including the ongoing insurgency and widespread unemployment.

Waves of Afghan refugees arrived in Iran following the communist coup in 1968, after the collapse of the pro-Soviet regime in 1992 and during the subsequent civil war. Some stayed due to ongoing violence and unemployment in Afghanistan, while other Afghans have emigrated to Iran to find work.

In the past, many were allowed to work and families provided with access to education. Now, most are there illegally, leaving them vulnerable to various forms of abuse and exploitation.

Activists in Nimroz say that it is hard to get an accurate idea of the scale of the problem. Many migrants go missing, having possibly fallen victim to human traffickers, said Attiqullah Noorzad, head of the province’s civil society network.

“Human trafficking creates many problems for the young people and families of this country, and sometimes it even leads to the migrants’ death,” he continued, arguing that the only possible solution was for both central and local government to create more job opportunities for young people at home.

Abdul Hameed, a 35-year-old originally from Chimtal district of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan, knows all too well what can go wrong.

“I have travelled to Iran ten times and four times was bought and sold by human traffickers,” he said, adding that he was bought and sold for around 50 US dollars each time.

Provincial council deputy head Mohammad Sidiq Chakhansoori estimated that as many as 1,000 crossed to Iran each day, many travelling from northern and central Afghanistan.

“They are economic refugees among them as well as people who are fleeing because of security problems,” he said, also arguing that the only solution was to create more jobs at home, including investing in major infrastructure works.

Mining and the hydroelectricity sector would be particularly promising places to start, he concluded.

Apart from the dangers involved in the actual crossing, many Afghans also start using opiates while in Iran. Satar said that that they often came back with drug addictions, placing yet another burden on local services which already struggle to house and support the influx of returnees.

“We have set up refugee camps near Iran border for the refugees and immigrants who have been deported. These refugee camps have two parts, one for the families and other for the single people,” said Haji Gul Safi, the director of the provincial department of refugees and repatriation.

Safi continued, “We provide basic living facilities to the refugees in these camps such as healthcare services, education and trainings.”

Lal Mohammad, a 35-year-old originally from Burka district in Baghlan province, is living in one of these camps after having been deported from Iran. He said that that many of his companions were killed or wounded when Iranian border troops opened fire on them as they attempted to cross.

For now, the Afghan authorities say they simply do not have the capacity to halt the flood of people leaving Afghanistan via this route.

Mohammad Umari, spokesperson for the Nimroz police, says that a lack of properly trained border troops meant that it was impossible to stop people crossing illegally to Iran.

He said, however, that police were making all possible efforts to tackle human trafficking, and had arrested around 100 people in connection with this last year, including one Iranian national. All were currently being investigated.

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.

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