Afghans alarmed by Iran’s possible move to expel refugees

A group of Afghan migrant workers enter Afghan territory after leaving Iran at the Islam Qala border in Herat province November 5, 2012. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 13 May 2019
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Afghans alarmed by Iran’s possible move to expel refugees

  • There are around 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran
  • Analysts believe Tehran is using the issue to make US soften sanctions

KABUL: Afghans expressed concern on Sunday about the implications of a move by neighboring Iran to deport nearly 3 million Afghan refugees from its soil if Washington toughens its sanctions against Tehran. 

Faced by the threat of a new wave of US sanctions, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi warned recently that if further sanctions were to be imposed — which would impair the export of Iran’s oil — then it would be forced to “request our Afghan brothers and sisters to leave Iran.” 

Araqchi’s comments have created concern among government officials and locals in Afghanistan, where Washington’s sanctions last year pushed up prices and affected trade.

Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, the Afghan minister for repatriation of refugees, said in comments posted on his Facebook page that Araqchi’s remarks were uncalculated, “provocative and in contradiction with international commitments.”

Sayed Abdul Basit Ansari, a spokesman for Balkhi, said Kabul “hoped that Iran will not resort to such a move despite the fact that ties between Iran and the US are not good and will possibly further deteriorate.”

“If such a thing happens, it is natural that it will be in direct violation of refugees laws,” Ansari told Arab News.

“When 3 million refugees come back all of a sudden, it is clear that there will be a crisis since they will need shelter, work and it will cause a big challenge for the government in terms of insecurity and poverty.”

He said Iran has not officially informed Afghanistan about any possible plan for expelling the refugees.

He said that Kabul would raise the matter with authorities in Tehran either by dispatch of a delegation or officially when and if the Islamic Republic officially announces that it will throw out the refugees.

He hoped Iran would not damage its historical and traditional ties with Afghanistan.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees living in Iran have access to jobs and some of them even send home some money for their families.

“My uncle has been living in Iran for 19 years now. His kids go to school there and he has a good job and settled well there,” said Barakat Ali, an Afghan in Kabul.

“If Iran implements the exodus policy, then it will be difficult for people like my uncle to find a job here and put up with other shortcomings here,” he told Arab News.

Imam Dad, a 40-year-old laborer in Kabul who has at least 20 relatives living in Iran said: “Afghanistan has no resources to address the needs of those who have returned from Pakistan and Iran in recent years, as well as the internally displaced people, and the possible exodus from Iran will mean a new wave of disaster for its people and government.”

Fazl Ahmad Orya, an analyst, told Arab News that Iran was using the “expulsion of refugees as a means of putting pressure on the Afghan government, so it encourages America not to further toughen the sanctions against Iran.”

But analyst Zubair Shafiqi disagreed, saying that ties between Washington and President Ashraf Ghani’s government were not smooth, and that Kabul no longer has the influence or leverage to persuade the US to avoid broadening sanctions.

Orya said the Afghan refugees living in Iran, who are mostly either Shiites or Hazaras, largely followers of the same sect, were “actually a good asset for Tehran for its war in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.”

“Iran is also possibly using the expulsion issue in order to gain funds from refugee agencies, but if Iran’s economy gets hurt by the sanctions, then the Afghans there will have no jobs either and will come home,” Orya said.

Shafiqi said Ghani’s government was “weak and inefficient, and the expulsion would cause catastrophe for society and the government. America neither listens to Ghani’s government and nor thinks about the fate of the Afghan refugees, it does what it wants,” he told Arab News.


Iranian bread permanent guest at Kuwaiti tables

For decades, Taftoon bread has been a staple of Kuwaiti dinning tables. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019
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Iranian bread permanent guest at Kuwaiti tables

  • Taftoon has remained popular in Kuwait despite escalating tensions in the past year between Iran on one side and the US on the other

KUWAIT CITY: Khalil Kamal makes sure he regularly visits Kuwait’s popular Souq Al-Mubarakiya, where he enjoys his favorite kebab meal with onion, rocket and freshly baked Iranian bread.
The smell of the bread wafts through the market as it bakes in a traditional oven at the Al-Walimah restaurant in downtown Kuwait City.
The restaurant’s Iranian baker takes one of the many dough balls lined up in front of him and spreads it over a cushion, using the pad to stick the dough against the inside wall of the clay oven.
Once ready, he uses a long stick to reach in and pull out a steaming rounded loaf, served piping hot to customers.
For decades, Iranian bread — known as taftoon — has been a staple of Kuwaiti breakfast, lunch and dinner tables.
“Iranian bread is the only bread we’ve known since we were born,” 60-year-old Kamal told AFP.
Hassan Abdullah Zachriaa, a Kuwaiti of Iranian origin, opened Al-Walimah in 1996. Its tables are spread across a courtyard, surrounded by wooden columns and entryways.
Zachriaa, in his 70s, said the restaurant puts out between 400 and 500 loaves of Iranian bread a day.
“The big turnout in Kuwait for Iranian bread stems from the fact that for decades, our mothers used to make it at home,” he told AFP.
“We then started to buy it from bakeries and stand in lines to get it fresh and hot in the morning, noon and evening.”
The flat bread is offered alongside many dishes popular in Kuwait such as Al-Baja, lamb bits stuffed with rice, Al-Karaeen, cooked sheep feet, classic chickpea plates, or beans and cooked fish.
Almost all restaurants in the old market have their own traditional clay ovens where either Iranian or Afghan bakers work.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Taftoon is offered alongside many dishes popular in Kuwait such as Al-Baja, lamb bits stuffed with rice.

• Almost all restaurants in the old market have their own traditional clay ovens where either Iranian or Afghan bakers work.

• The bread has remained popular in Kuwait despite escalating tensions in the past year between Iran on one side and the US on the other.

• Bakeries specializing in Iranian bread began popping up in Kuwait in the 1970s and have since expanded to more than 100.

Derbas Hussein Al-Zoabi, 81, a customer at Al-Walimah, said many Kuwaitis were raised on Iranian bread.
“Since childhood, Iranians baked bread for us ... and we used to eat it in the morning with milk and ghee” — clarified butter.
Other than at street markets, Kuwaitis can buy Iranian bread from co-ops, where people line up in the early hours of the morning and again in the evening to get the freshly baked goods.
Some bakeries even have designated segregated entryways for men and women.
Some Kuwaitis customise their orders with spreads of sesame, thyme and dates, and many come prepared with cloth bags to keep the bread as fresh as possible on the trip home.
Bakeries specializing in Iranian bread began popping up in Kuwait in the 1970s and have since expanded to more than 100, according to deputy chief of the Union Co-operative Society Khaled Al-Otaibi.
“These bakeries produce 2 million loaves of bread a day to meet the needs of Kuwaitis and residents,” he told AFP.
“They receive fuel and flour at a subsidised price so that bread is available for not more than 20 fils (less than seven cents).”
The price however can go to up to 50 fils depending on the amount and type of additives, including sesame and fennel.
Taftoon has remained popular in Kuwait despite escalating tensions in the past year between Iran on one side and the US on the other.