Afghan refugees are trafficked to Iran in a very coordinated manner and officials, from border police to authorities issuing legal documents might be involved, a recent report has revealed.
An investigative report published on Wednesday about the system behind the trafficking on Farazdaily, a news website in Tehran, featured interviews with people smugglers and refugees.
Currently, the Iranian government is being criticized for its seemingly lenient approach to Afghan refugees. Political opponents of the government have repeatedly warned of its “open borders” policy and possible hidden agendas. In response, the government has accused critics of inciting “Afghan-phobia” as a response to fast-growing anti-Afghan sentiment.
President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration is under scrutiny for allegedly trying to encourage the growth of the Afghan population in Iran, either to compensate for the decline of the native population, or to bolster its military by recruiting young Shiite Hazara Afghans immigrants. Iran has used thousands of Afghan fighters in the Syrian civil war to support strongman Bashar al-Assad.
Trafficking Afghans to Iran is a very secure and coordinated process, and there’s little chance of getting caught, smugglers told Mostafa Kamali, the journalist behind the Farazdaily investigation.
This claim implies some involvement on the part of officials.
“Afghan smugglers are influential individuals who assure immigrants they will reach Iran safely and without any problems,” explains one trafficker.
“Sometimes it is possible to collude with others,” the smuggler adds, explaining that he pays soldiers manning the Afghan-Pakistan and the Pakistan-Iran borders and coordinates with them that at a certain hour, the cars will be crossing the border.
Also, he claims that some Afghans in Iran pay money to “some people” to get residency, without naming any organizations.
According to the report, the illegal migration “mafia” is also at least partially associated with the Afghan Taliban army and nobles.
In most cases, Afghans enter Iran through the Milak border crossing in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, and they settle in Mashhad, Tehran, Shiraz and other cities where there are job opportunities, the smugglers explain.
Additionally, some businesses are interested in refugees and are willing to accept the cost of their being smuggled into the country.
“There are times when an Iranian asks for an Afghan laborer; when this happens, the immigrant does not have to pay any fees,” describes another smuggler.
However, the extent of the illegal immigration, which existed for the past four decades has reached new levels in the past two years. The smugglers refer to the system behind human trafficking as a “mafia”. “Can you imagine how many millions of Afghans live in Iran right now? A number like this cannot be accounted for by ten or twenty Afghan smugglers.”
Afghan immigration to Iran dates back to the early 1980s when they first arrived as refugees. As time progressed, they transitioned to becoming economic migrants.
Afghan refugees have been streaming through the border in recent years, with their total number now estimated to be between 6 to 7 million, according to the Iranian Parliament’s Research Center expert.
“After the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan government in 2021, we have definitely faced a flood of migration”, Mostafa Jahanbakhsh told IRNA state agency in October.
In the years prior to the Taliban’s takeover, the total number of Afghans in Iran rarely exceeded two million.