Afghanistan feels impact of Iran’s economic isolation

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Afghans began moving to Iran in large numbers after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and they continued to migrate for work through decades of conflict. (AFP)
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The latest drop in remittances from Iran is already having an impact on the economies of the Afghan provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2019

Afghanistan feels impact of Iran’s economic isolation

GENEVA/KABUL: Abdul Saboor escaped poverty and instability in Afghanistan three years ago with his wife and three children and found work in neighboring Iran. Now he has returned home, despite the fact that life there has not improved.
His job at a grocery store in the central Iranian city of Isfahan brought in about 280 dollars a month, enough to support his family. But the Iranian rial took a dive last year and his employer cut his wages to less than 100 dollars a month.
“The economic situation in Iran is really bad,” said the 28-year-old. “Wages have gone down since last year and a lot of families had to return to Afghanistan.”
Afghans began moving to Iran in large numbers after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and they continued to migrate for work through decades of conflict, sending money to relatives back home that helped bolster Afghanistan’s struggling economy.
In 2017, there were approximately 2.5 million to 3 million Afghans in Iran, according to Iranian government estimates cited by the United Nations.
That number could be cut in half by the end of this year. More than 770,000 Afghans left Iran last year as the currency faltered and an extra 570,000 are expected to go this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in January.
Iran’s economy has been squeezed since President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
US officials have said the sanctions are intended to pressure Iran to negotiate over what they say are its aggressive missile program and regional policy; critics say they hurt ordinary people and entrench hard-line rulers.
The rial lost approximately 70 percent of its value last year before recovering slightly, disrupting Iran’s foreign trade and helping boost annual inflation fourfold to nearly 40 percent in November. Currency fluctuations and the unstable economy have led to sporadic street protests since late 2017.
An IOM report in January noted that a big jump in the number of Afghans returning from Iran last year was “largely driven by recent political and economic issues in Iran including massive currency devaluation.”
Afghans typically took harsh, labor-intensive jobs in Iran and their departure will mean higher production costs, said Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based economist and political analyst.
Under pressure
Over the past year, many Afghans in Iran have sought advice about returning from the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli — a senior Afghan religious leader based in the holy city of Qom, according to an administrator in the office who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“With the crash of the value of the rial, staying in Iran has become very difficult for Afghan migrants,” he said. “They are under pressure.”
Naim, 18, followed the path of two of his older brothers and came to Iran from Afghanistan when he was only ten years old but quickly managed to find work in construction in Tehran.
The work was backbreaking and his family faced hardship: one brother lost four fingers in a construction accident in Tehran.
But he persevered, because he could make more money than at home, and eventually got a job as a doorman at a multi-story apartment complex in Tehran.
Last year, as the economic situation in Iran began to deteriorate, one of his older brothers decided he could no longer support his wife and six children and moved back to Herat in western Afghanistan.
“My brother’s wife and children were hungry and this currency has no value so they went back,” Naim said.
His brother started working in agriculture and has been able to open a small shop in Herat with his earnings. He is now pushing Naim to come home from Iran, a trip that he and approximately 150 friends and extended family are planning to take in two months.
“We work and we work and for what?” Naim said. “We have to go back.”
He could face an uncertain future once he returns.
“The economic opportunities in Afghanistan are no longer there. It’s not like there’s a lack of opportunities in Iran and new opportunities in Afghanistan,” said Sarah Craggs, IOM’s senior program coordinator for Afghanistan, who is based in Kabul. “There are no opportunities in either country really.”
Afghans have long sought better lives in other countries and a lack of jobs in Iran could also boost numbers trying to head further west to Europe.
The latest drop in remittances from Iran is already having an impact on the economies of the Afghan provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor, an IOM report said in January.
Abdul Saboor now earns about 130 dollars a month working at a restaurant in Herat.
“Life was much better in Iran but since the financial crisis, it was difficult to survive so we had to come back despite all the hardship here,” he said. “I was the lucky one and found a job while thousands of others are jobless.”

No plane, no pilots and no real answers on missing Philippine training plane

Updated 28 min 6 sec ago

No plane, no pilots and no real answers on missing Philippine training plane

  • The training plane owned by Orient Flying Schoo vanished on May 17 off Mindoro island
  • On board the aircraft were Saudi student pilot Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif and his Filipino instructor

MANILA: The Beechcraft Baron 55 disappeared ten minutes after it took off on May 17 from San Jose Airport in the central Philippine island of Mindoro.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said that the last known position of RP-C9078, the tail number by which the plane has come to be popularly identified, was just 16 nautical miles south of the airport over the deep waters of the Mindoro Strait, after which radar contact was lost.

Since then, no pieces of the wreckage of the training plane have been found; nor have any remains of the two people on board, Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a 23-year-old Saudi student at the Orient Flying School, and his Filipino instructor, Captain Jose Nelson Yapparcon.

An investigation into the mystery has spanned three months and involved the Philippines Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force scouring the seas, army troopers and policemen combing rugged offshore islands and the Saudi embassy in Manila providing logistical and liaison support. Sophisticated sonar equipment has been deployed to scan thousands of hectares of the seabed and conducted aerial and sea searches in Occidental Mindoro and its neighboring provinces. Information networks for the public to report possible sightings of the plane or the pilots were established in 11 villages near and around San Jose Airport.

But to date, there are no definitive answers. A black bag confirmed to be owned by Yapparcon and containing his wallet, credit cards, pilot’s license and other sundry items was caught on the nylon rope of a seaweed plantation, found by fishermen and turned over to authorities. Other than that, there is little certainty about the whereabouts of the plane and its doomed passengers and their fate has become one of the most vexing aviation disappearances in the history of the Philippines.

“As of now … pending new information on the location and anything that would point out where the aircraft was or the pilots ... we (have) toned down the search and rescue operation, short of suspending,” Col. Jose Mendoza, the chief of security at CAAP’s Security and Intelligence Service, told Arab News in an interview. He declined to specify if the search had been entirely called off.

Most leads, indeed, have gone dry and the mystery of the missing plane has given rise to speculation and conspiracy theories. Also confusing for many pilots is how a plane manned by a veteran such as 50-year-old Yapparcon, whom many of his colleagues described as “one of the best pilots” of the twin-engine Beechcraft Baron 55, could disappear without a trace.

The mystery is deepened by claims by Al-Sharif’s family that they were able to contact his mobile phone one week after he went missing. In a recording of a phone conversation in the possession of authorities in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia and heard by Arab News, a person picks up the phone and Al-Sharif’s mother is heard saying in Arabic, “Where is Abdullah, where is Abdullah,” before the line drops.

In an official report written in English and translated in Arabic, and seen by Arab News, the report said that the telecommunication company Globe records shows no incoming or outgoing calls from Al-Sharif’s cell phone since the morning of May 17. 

A police report on the disappearance of RP-C9078 obtained by Arab News identified the owner of the missing trainer aircraft as “Racel Kara Cadingan.”

A retired general with knowledge of the case said “it is common knowledge who owns” the academy, and that is Captain Romel Cadingan, father of Racel Kara. However, the civil aviation authority spokesman, Eric Apolonio, denied that Captain Romel is currently the owner of the school. “The captain had been the owner and operator of the school in the past,” he said.

Capt. Cadingan holds the rank of deputy director II at the CAAP. He previously served as chief of the CAAP Flight Standards Inspectorate Service (FSIS), but was recently reassigned to the CAAP Office of the Deputy Director for Administration for Special Projects to oversee the construction of a new domestic airport in Sangley Point, Cavite.

Apolonio said that Cadingan was moved to Sangley because “his expertise was needed there.” He also confirmed that Cadingan’s reassignment to Cavite came after his name began to be dragged into the case of the missing plane.

Arab News tried to reach Capt. Cadingan, as well as officials of the flying school, for comment but had not received any response at the time of writing.

Using a freedom of information law, Arab News requested from CAAP a copy of the investigation report on the disappearance of RP-C9078, as well as other documents that could conclusively detail the history and profile of the flying school and the missing plane. CAAP denied the request, saying that the information could not be shared until the aircraft accident and inquiry board finished its work.

The Saudi embassy in Manila also declined to comment on the status of the investigation, saying only that it was very much in touch with both the missing Saudi pilot’s family and authorities in Manila.

“The embassy will (put) serious efforts toward this issue (the Saudi missing pilot issue), and it prays to Allah that all the search efforts would yield the return of the missing citizen Abdullah Al-Sharif safe and sound to his family,” a statement by the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Manila issued on July 30, 2019 said.

A police report seen by Arab News showed that the missing plane had been involved in a previous accident in Palawan province in July 2015 while delivering fish. Though the pilot of the 2015 crash did not sustain injuries, “the aircraft incurred an undetermined amount of damages,” the police report said, adding that the crash was caused by the “mechanical failure of nose wheel.”

Apolonio, in an earlier interview with Arab News, confirmed the 2015 incident involving RP-C9078. He added the plane was later acquired by the Orient Aviation Flying School. The spokesman stressed that despite the previous accident, RP-C9078 “passed all safety procedures” to be used as a trainer aircraft.

“We have safety procedures and a checklist and it (aircraft) passed all these. It has been used as a trainer aircraft for years now,” he said.

Army Brig. Gen. Marceliano Teofilo, commander of the Army 203rd Brigade that led the land search for RP-C9078, said that the investigators’ inability to find wreckage had given rise to suspicions and conspiracy theories around the missing plane.

“It is really very unusual that an aircraft would just disappear,” the commander said. “There was no wreckage of the plane, except for the bag of the Filipino pilot that was retrieved; that’s why there are speculations.”

For Al-Sharif’s family, especially his father, uncle and younger brother who have been in the Philippines since the plane went missing, the only hope is to find out what happened to him.

“He was supposed to graduate in two months before what happened to him,” his brother Abdul Majeed told Arab News. “I will not go back to Saudi Arabia until and unless I see my brother alive in front of my eyes.”