Iranwire – In a recent announcement, senior Afghan officials declared they have identified 34 human trafficking networks operating in the first nine months of 2020, and arrested 60 people on human trafficking-related charges. The Afghan Justice Minister Fazl Ahmad Manavi said some of the defendants have since been sentenced to several years in prison.
Although Afghans have represented the world’s largest migrant community for more than half a century now, in recent years, the insecurity they face has escalated. Extremist groups are returning to prominence in their country of birth and as a result, many more Afghan citizens of all ages are choosing to emigrate – placing them at risk of exploitation on the way.
At a press conference in Kabul on February 4, 2021, the Afghan Minister of Justice of, Fazl Ahmad Manavi, announced that during the first nine months of 2020 the Attorney General of Afghanistan had sent 17 human trafficking-related cases involving 30 defendants for trial.
During the same period, he said, a total of 34 human trafficking networks in Afghanistan had been identified and a number of new suspects have been arrested. Four people accused of human trafficking and participation in human trafficking gangs have also received custodial sentences of between one and five years.
Afghanistan is one of the countries with the highest rates of emigration to Europe. Decades of war, poverty and a lack of prospects have spurred children and adults alike to leave in hopes of a better life elsewhere. Many of these people have no option but to employ the services of human traffickers to get to their intended destinations.
The Afghan government has repeatedly stressed the need to combat human trafficking. But it appears to be largely powerless to stop it in the present. To attack the root causes of human trafficking is to address unemployment, poverty and insecurity so that fewer desperate people feel compelled to leave by any means necessary.
The vast majority of Afghan citizens, whether seeking employment in next-door Iran or striking out for a brighter future in Europe, must first pass through the of physical territory of neighboring countries. Generally, they travel to the Afghan provinces of Kandahar or Nimruz, come to an agreement with the smugglers there, and then head for Iran via Pakistan by crossing the mountains on foot or by car. Throughout the journey their lives are effectively a commodity in the hands of the smugglers, whom they expect to protect them.
Mohammad Ali, a resident of the border province of Nimruz in western Afghanistan, told IranWire that human trafficking is no secret in the area. It is, he says, most blatant in the city of Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz. “Traffickers in the city are looking for passengers. It appears that human trafficking is permissible in Nimruz, and anyone can easily reach an agreement with the smugglers and go. I don’t think the government has the will to fight human trafficking. It’s obvious that it is going on.”
Parts of Kandahar and Nimruz are also under the control of the Taliban, and they have expended no effort on blocking the criminal practice. The opposite, in fact; in many places the Taliban control the border and for the right price, a sum of money equivalent to a bribe known as Salahi, any trafficker can pass through and send large crowds of Afghan citizens off to an unknown fate.
Afghan officials now say their Human Trafficking Commission has provided financial and educational support to some 54,000 Afghans who have been repatriated from Iran, so that they can return to their families and communities with some prospects. More than 300 migrant children who returned to Afghanistan from Iran have also received legal, health, financial, educational and psychological support.
There are many stories of Afghan immigrant children fleeing to Iran to help support their families. Many have also escaped insecurity and danger, preferring to work in Iran to living in the constantly-shifting political landscape of Afghanistan. Despite the many known cases of forced returns, many still embark on the perilous journey. Not all of them survive it.
Many Afghan activists, civil society organizations and citizens have criticized the Afghan government for not providing sufficient security and livelihood guarantees for its people. Officials, meanwhile, say they have taken innumerate steps toward this. The Afghan Minister of Justice has claimed the government received at least 6,500 telephone calls for help from illegal immigrants in 2020 alone; some who are still away from home, and some who have been deported by Iran. The Afghan government is now planning to raise public awareness of the dangers of human trafficking by launching various media campaigns. But none of these measures will counter the tangible threat posed to people by extremist groups, including kidnappings, suicide bombings and the killings of soldiers and civilians.
For his part, Nimruz resident Mohammad Ali has twice attempted the illegal crossing into Iran from his home province, in 2014 and 2014. Like others, he was first taken to Pakistan and then set foot on Iranian soil. In both cases, he said, his convoy was not once intercepted by Afghan government forces.
Now back in his country of origin and amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mohammad Ali is struggling to make ends meet for himself, his wife and his two children. He has not worked for 10 months. He tells IranWire he plans to shortly make the trip to Iran for the third time; a journey his smuggler tells him will cost four million tomans, and not one he is happy about.”If there were work in Afghanistan, I’d never go to Iran. Not to be insulted and humiliated.”
Unemployment is rampant in Afghanistan, and human trafficking is by all accounts a lucrative business. The smugglers freely scout for custom in different areas, and their customers include journalists and intellectuals as well as the unemployed; though they seem to target poorer neighbourhoods the most. Despite the announcement of the Minister of Justice, the official achievements to date seem to be the tip of the iceberg.
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Afghanistan using the pseudonym Daniel Dayan to protect his identity.