Daniel Dayan; Citizen journalist
Dozens of Afghans abandon school and life in Afghanistan every day due to poverty, unemployment, insecurity and war, and travel to Iran. If they survive being smuggled across the border then they work as laborers – sometimes for generations because of the restrictions and discrimination against Afghans in Iranian society. Afghans are also regularly detained by the police during their crossings and face violent treatment. If the passengers are children then the wounds inflicted on their souls and minds are deeper than the bruises that remain on them for several days.
Nezamoddin was smuggled at the age of 14 to Iran to become a child laborer. But he fell into the hands of Iranian police en route and beaten and returned to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, he wants to live Iran – even if he faces violence.
Poverty and the escalation of the war are forcing many Afghans to illegal migrate to Iran (via people smugglers) and the human trafficking market in Afghanistan is heating up. Poverty is so high among Afghans, especially in rural areas, that many people are handing over their teenagers to human traffickers without even a companion for safety; even if they are gambling with their children's lives. The mission of these teenagers is to become a worker in Iran so that their families in Afghanistan do not starve to death. But hunger, thirst, abuse and beatings are part of the journeys these teenagers undertake – sometimes even losing their lives.
The escalation of the war in the Pashtun Zarghun city of western Afghanistan's Herat province, and the lack of work opportunities there, were among the reasons that caused 14-year-old Nezamoddin to travel to Iran. He has three younger sisters and six brothers and he was educated up to the sixth grade. But his father sent him to Iran to contribute to the livelihood of this large family. According to the agreement between the family and the people smugglers, after arriving in Iran, the family was due to pay 1,850,000 tomans ($74) to the traffickers.
Nezamoddin's father works in a car repair shop. According to Nezamoddin, his father knew the dangers of this smuggling trip. "But we were hungry and had nothing,” he said. “That's why I had to go to Iran to earn money."
The route for the journey is the same as other travellers use to go to Iran every day. The smuggler sent Nezamoddin, along with 45 other passengers from Pashtun Zarghun, to Nimrouz province to go to Pakistan from southern Afghanistan. They were transported in cars carrying dozens of passengers. "Drivers were driving at high speed without stopping. The driver and the smuggler told us that if we got out of the car and got injured, they would not be able to take us with them and would leave us in the plains,” Nezamoddin said.
Only five bottles of water were provided for 45 passengers. Thirst was the first difficulty the passengers felt – along with fear and anxiety. Nezamoddin said the passengers had some raw chickpeas with them, which they mashed by stamping on them with their feet, and ate, to cope with their hunger during the journey.
The passengers reached the plains of Pakistan and walked to the Iranian border overnight. Border guards on foot saw them crossing from a distance. "The police followed us, but they could not catch us, no matter how long they ran. Despite ordering us to stop, we did not stop, and just ran,” Nezamoddin said.
The Afghans were able to reach Kerman. But by this time they seemed to have no escape from the Iranian agents, "By the time we reached the Kerman border, there were 14 of us,” Nezamoddin said. “Some passengers who did not listen to the guide were arrested. We were also arrested by the police when we arrived."
Nezamuddin narrated his story with more difficulty from this point – as if all the beatings and tortures he experienced were happening to him again.
The agents ambushed the Afghans from the top of a hill and targeted them as they passed. Nezamuddin said Iranian police beat and tortured him and his companions and they spent the night without food and water at the checkpoint.
Enduring hunger and thirst, and physical abuse, has put a bitterness in the eyes and voice of a child who has gone through the hardships of the journey from Afghanistan to Iran, in the hope of a piece of bread. But neither the roadblocks nor the violent clashes between Iranian police forces are the solution to poverty, unemployment and hunger in Afghanistan.
Nezamuddin was returned to Afghanistan from the border after spending several nights in Iranian detention. But he is still plans to travel to Iran illegally to feed his siblings. "We have to go to Iran again,” he said. “We have nothing to eat. I have nine siblings, all of whom are small. I know it is difficult to go to Iran, but I have no choice."