Human Rights Watch says Iran recruiting Afghans for Syria fight

This file photo taken on April 30, 2015 shows Foreign fighters who joined the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to fight in their ranks against jihadists and Islamist rebels in northeastern Syria taking part in a training session on April 30, 2015 in the south-west Syrian region of Ras al-Ain, close to the Turkish border. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2017
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Human Rights Watch says Iran recruiting Afghans for Syria fight

KABUL: Fleeing grinding poverty and unemployment, thousands of Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to defend Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, former fighters and rights activists say.
Afghan men and boys as young as 14 are signing up to fight on the promise of money and legal residency in Shiite-dominated Iran, Assad’s regional ally, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Since 2013 the Afghans, including undocumented migrants living in Iran, have joined the Tehran-backed Fatemiyoun division fighters in Syria, said HRW and ex-members who spoke to AFP on condition their real names were not used.
“For me, it was just about money,” said Shams, a former fighter.
The 25-year-old, a member of the Hazara ethnic group, went to Syria twice in 2016 to fight in a conflict that has now been raging for more than six years.
“Whoever I saw was going for money and to have free entry to Iran. I never saw anyone fighting for religious reasons,” said Shams, who now lives in the Afghan capital Kabul.
The withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014 drained the Afghan economy and left many people out of work, fueling the flow of migrants into Iran in search of a better life.
HRW estimated last year that Iran hosts around 3 million Afghans.
In this desperate pool, Iranian recruiters targeted Shiites to swell the ranks of Fatemiyoun soldiers, who HRW says fight alongside Syrian regime forces.
“I went there (Iran) because I was jobless and it was a way to get money for my family,” said Shams.
“My idea was to find a job in Iran. I had no plan to go to fight in Syria but after a month of being jobless, I decided to go.
“They were encouraging us saying ‘you will be a freedom fighter and if you return to Iran alive you can stay with a 10-year residence permit.’ But my main goal was to earn money.”
Afghan Shiites are given 1.5 million rials ($450) to register at a recruitment center for the Fatemiyoun, Shams said. Once they have signed up they receive 3 million rials a month, a fortune for many poor Afghans.
Shams’ first mission was in June 2016 in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he was assigned to protect a barracks for two months. He went back to the country in September and was deployed to Aleppo, where he was given his first AK-47 rifle after receiving rudimentary weapons training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
On the front line of the battle between Daesh and the Al-Nusra Front, Shams said he found himself caught up in an intense and deadly battle.
“In Aleppo, we faced an ambush — out of 100 fighters we lost almost all of them. There were 15 of us left alive,” Shams said.
“The bodies were sent back to Iran and the families in Afghanistan held funeral ceremonies in mosques without a coffin or grave.”
Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, estimates more than 760 Afghans have been killed in Syria since September 2013.
Another man who fought in Syria in 2014 when he was 17, said it was not just Afghans in Fatemiyoun. “There were also Pakistanis, Iraqis — all the Shiites,” he told AFP.
“We were mixed up with the Arabs, we did not understand their language.”
HRW says the Iranians refuse to provide accurate figures, but estimates there are nearly 15,000 Afghans fighting for Fatemiyoun.
“They are used by the Iranian government, which treats them like slaves,” said Ramazan Bashardost, a Hazara member of Parliament in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry called on Iran in October to stop sending young Afghans to Syria after the HRW report condemning the recruitment of minors.


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 25 June 2019
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”