Afghans working in Iran send home some $500 million annually, equivalent to 6 per cent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP), according to a new study commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Most Afghans working in Iran are doing so illegally, with some 360,000 of them having been deported last year, said the new report, which examines the migration of Afghans under irregular conditions and for employment purposes to Iran.
“The potential for Afghans to succeed financially in Iran is significantly higher than in Afghanistahn, Nassim Majidi of Altai Consulting, which was commissioned to conduct the survey by UNHCR and ILO, told reporters today in Kabul.
Afghans send two-thirds of their salaries in Iran back to Afghanistan, she said. Also, monthly wages in Iran are four times higher than in Afghanistan, with an Afghan earning $320 each month on average in Iran compared to $80 back in their home country.
“Unemployment levels are also significantly lower,” Ms. Majidi noted, with Afghans going to Iraq surveyed saying that they find employment within a week. “Beyond their fulfilled income generating potential in Iran, Afghan men also benefit from experience to improve their wages or to learn new skills.”
Migration is mostly temporary and cyclical, with adult Afghans, without their families, staying on average for 3.5 years, the study found. Nearly two-thirds have been to Iran more than once for work purposes and have been deported.
“It is a labour migration issue and not a refugee migration issue,” Ms. Majidi noted.
But she cautioned that there is an “undeniable human cost” resulting from this irregular migration, with the rise in human smuggling, which has increased physical and psychological vulnerabilities for Afghan migrants as well as risks and dangers in transit to Iran.
While recognizing Iran's sovereign right to deport undocumented and unauthorized people within its territory, the new study calls on both Iran and Afghanistan to “endorse a rights-based approach for all deportees during detention and upon return.”
In a related development, a former senior UN official said tremendous challenges facing Afghanistan – including lawlessness, low employment levels, poor governance, corruption and drug trafficking – threaten to roll back tremendous gains made in the war-torn nation since 2001.
“The Government is losing ground every day to insurgents and other outlaws who now control at least a third of the country. Rather than uniting against a common enemy, various Afghan politicians remain distracted by selfish, futile struggles for power,” Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General, wrote in an Op-Ed in The Washington Post, on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the Bonn Agreement in December 2001.
That milestone accord, signed by various Afghan factions, paved the way for a political transition in their country.
“Seven years ago, the Taliban was routed and vanished from Kabul and other big cities, but it never surrendered to anyone,” Mr. Brahimi wrote. “It stood to reason that its intentions and strength would have a major bearing on the country's future.”
The UN suggested reaching out to Taliban members who might join the peace process and to deploy the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside the capital Kabul, but these recommendations “fell on deaf ears,” he said.
“I regret bitterly not having advocated even more forcefully for these proposals at the highest levels. Their pursuit then might have changed the course of events in Afghanistan.”
The former Representative called for a new single strategy, which he characterized as “a collective effort of Afghans and all their foreign partners.”
He acknowledged that finding such a strategy will not be easy, but he underscored that “the Afghan people have suffered enough. A better future for them is long overdue.”