TOLOnews talks to migrants bound for Iran who cite unemployment and insecurity as reasons for leaving the country.
Nimroz Identified As Key Human Trafficking Route
An investigation by TOLOnews has found that every day hundreds of Afghans are leaving the country for Iran through Nimroz province and that they are crossing the border unchecked.
Migrants fleeing the country this way continue to do so despite the numerous challenges they deal with along the way.
TOLOnews found that the first step is the link up with human traffickers – which takes place in various provinces around the country.
From here, migrants are split up into groups and are taken to Nimroz’s center, Zaranj City where they will usually spend a few days.
It’s here where the reality of their situation sets in and most often the conditions migrants are subjected to in Zaranj are harsh – with little food, no healthcare nor other basic facilities.
Refugees interviewed by TOLOnews said Nimroz has become the primary route for human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Business owners have however taken the opportunity to profit off this flow of migrants and many hotels for refugees have sprung up on the outskirts of Zaranj city.
Hundreds of people make use of these hotels every day.
Conditions are awful as many hotel owners squeeze on average 20 people into one room at a time – while some rooms don’t even have roofs.
One would-be migrant, Mohammad Asif, is from Nangarhar, and he said his aim is to reach Europe – through Iran.
Asif is a computer science graduate from Nangarhar university and has spent years looking for a job.
“I studied for sixteen years (including school). I had big hopes to serve the country but this has not happened and now I am leaving my country,” said Asif.
For most of these migrants, their trip has been planned well in advance and often starts out at a shoemaker.
To get money out of the country, without losing it along the way, refugees told TOLOnews they will take the pair of shoes they plan to wear to a shoemaker.
He will open up the soles or heels where money can be hidden before gluing the shoes back together.
The migrants said the amount hidden can run to a few thousand Afghanis in each shoe.
Asked why they are leaving the country, the migrants cited insecurity and unemployment as the two key issues.
“There is war in our province. We are going to Iran because of war and because of the Taliban,” said Dadullah, a resident of Faryab.
But in order to get to Iran, their journey will take at least 10 days from Zaranj – along routes filled with danger. Much of the journey will also be on foot.
“The route through which they (people) go is not good. It is full of challenges. Even there are some people who lose their lives along the way,” said Abdul Qarib Mubariz, the police chief of Nimroz.
While hundreds leave the country each day this way, thousands are either deported or repatriated from Iran on a daily basis.
One busy border crossing is Pul-e-Abrisham which sees refugees traveling in both directions.
Returnees Warn Against Illegal Migration
Return refugees had their own words of advice however.
“Stay in your country, even if you are hungry – you should not go to Iran,” said Safar Mohammad, a return refugee from Iran.
Another returnee concurred and said: “I ask my compatriots to stay in their country. We had tough times in Iran,” said Hayatullah, another return refugee.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) meanwhile stated in a recent report that 514,405 Afghans returned home from Iran and Pakistan between January 1 to August 25 - of which 492,343 of them returned from Iran.
According to the IOM, Iran is currently hosting 2.14 million Afghan refugees.
The organization said last month that the number of Afghan refugees returning home from Iran has increased sharply – especially in the wake of the Iranian currency losing its value against the US dollar.
IOM has also stated that between 8,000 and 10,000 undocumented Afghans return home from Iran every day.
Human trafficking has been on the rise in Afghanistan over the past few years – particularly after the drawdown of foreign troops from the country in 2014.
In a bid to combat this, the Afghan government launched the Afghanistan Network for Combating Trafficking in Persons (ANCTIP) in May this year.
The network is part of a multi-year United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded program, implemented by the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) where Afghanistan, along with regional countries, are trying to tackle the problem.
A meeting attended by representatives of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan was held last month where the establishment of a joint regional network to fight human trafficking was discussed.
According to Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who addressed the meeting, these human traffickers have gained ground on the back of problems in the country including the security situation.
In June last year, the Afghan law on trafficking was revised and since then government and NGOs have been closely following the situation.
Last month, the Afghan Justice Minister Abdul Basir Anwar said: ''With the approval of a new law on trafficking we have created a good basis to respond to trafficking in a more complete manner.”
He said that the hope is that NGOs ''can further strengthen their response to trafficking by stepping up their cross-border cooperation''.
The law was revised to help Afghan government officials better distinguish between the crimes of human trafficking and of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, which had previously been considered the same. By making this distinction, Afghanistan aims to provide better protection for the victims of both crimes.