Afghan migrants returning from Iran hit record high in 2018

Afghan returnees from Iran carry their backpacks as they arrive in Herat on August 4, 2018, just some of the nearly 800,000 who were forced to leave because of reduced economic opportunities. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Afghan migrants returning from Iran hit record high in 2018

  • ‘The reason why people are coming back is because of the reduced economic opportunities in the region ... including Iran’
  • Iran’s rial lost around half its value against the dollar last year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal

HERAT, Afghanistan: The flow of Afghans forced to leave Iran turned into a flood in 2018, with a record nearly 800,000 coming back as renewed US sanctions sent the Iranian currency into freefall and fueled inflation.
The 773,125 voluntary returnees and deportees was 66 percent more than in 2017 and the trend is expected to continue, said Laurence Hart, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) chief of mission in Afghanistan.
“The reason why people are coming back is because of the reduced economic opportunities in the region ... including Iran,” Hart said.
The 2018 figure was the highest since the IOM began systematically recording the volume of returnees to Afghanistan in 2012.
In contrast, just under 33,000 Afghans came back from Pakistan, where many have lived since fleeing the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Desperate Afghans have been paying smugglers to cross the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support struggling families.
Smugglers can charge $300-$500 per person, turning it into a multi-million industry.
An estimated 1.5 million to two million “undocumented” Afghans are in Iran, the United Nations’ refugee agency said in September, citing government estimates.
Another one million are registered as refugees.
Many of the families of migrants are farmers who have been suffering through Afghanistan’s worst drought in living memory, compounding the misery caused by 17 years of conflict and underscoring their reliance on the remittances.
“There were no jobs in Afghanistan so I had to go to Iran for work,” said Mohammad Sarwar, 39, who worked as a laborer for four months before he was arrested by Iranian police and deported.
“If I can make some money here, I will never go back to Iran,” he said at the IOM’s busy transit center in the western Afghan city of Herat, roughly 140 kilometers (90 miles) from the border.
Abdul Hakim, 28, had just found a job in Iran after a month of searching when he was detained and kicked out. He faces an uncertain future as he tries to find a way to support his wife and three young children.
“The situation is very bad in Afghanistan,” said Hakim, who comes from the northwestern province of Badghis, which has been hit hard by the drought.
Some, like 75-year-old Naseruddin, who only gave one name, have returned to Afghanistan penniless.
“I was there for five months but the police caught me,” he said.
“I have no money on me.”
Nearly half of the returnees — 358,065 — volunteered to come back to Afghanistan after watching their earnings shrivel up and jobs disappear.
Iran’s rial lost around half its value against the dollar last year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.
That move triggered a reimposition of tough sanctions on the Islamic republic, which have exacerbated the country’s economic problems.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 50 min 14 sec ago
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.