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
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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.”


British PM Theresa May resigns over Brexit failure

Updated 59 min ago
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British PM Theresa May resigns over Brexit failure

  • She will resign as Conservative Party leader on June 7 with a leadership contest in the following week
  • She endured crises and humiliation in her effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify

LONDON:  British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday she would quit, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.

May set out a timetable for her departure — she will resign as Conservative Party leader on June 7 with a leadership contest beginning the following week.

“I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist party on Friday, 7th June so that a successor can be chosen,” May said outside 10 Downing Street.

With her voice breaking up with emotion, May, who endured crises and humiliation in her effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, said she bore no ill will.

“I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold,” May said. “The second female prime minister, but certainly not the last.”

“I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love,” May said.

May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership, who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote, steps down with her central pledges — to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions — unfulfilled.

May bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU. She said her successor would need to find a consensus in parliament on Brexit.

May’s departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the European Union and a snap parliamentary election.

The leading contenders to succeed May all want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Treaty it sealed in November.

Meanwhile, the EU will not offer whoever takes over as British prime minister a better Brexit deal, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Friday.

“From my perspective, I don’t see the European Union offering any new prime minister a better or very different deal to what was on offer to Theresa May,” Coveney told Ireland’s Newstalk radio station after May on Friday said she would quit.

“This idea that a new prime minister will be a tougher negotiator and will put it up to the EU and get a much better deal for Britain? That’s not how the EU works.”