Hundreds of Afghans a day cross borders, ‘even when it means our loss of life’


Over the course of an hour on a latest evening, the bus ready within the Herat station stuffed with passengers. Largely younger males, that they had no baggage, simply the garments on their backs, possibly a bag with some bread and water for the lengthy street forward of them. 

That street is main them to Iran. 

Day-after-day, a number of buses rumble out of Afghanistan’s western metropolis of Herat, carrying lots of of individuals to the border. There they disembark, join with their smugglers and trek for days, typically crammed into pickup vehicles bumping by wastelands, typically on foot by treacherous mountains within the darkness, eluding guards and thieves. 


Afghans sits in a bus in Herat, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, for a 300-mile trip south to Nimrooz near the Iranian border. 

Afghans sits in a bus in Herat, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, for a 300-mile journey south to Nimrooz close to the Iranian border. 
(AP Picture/Petros Giannakouris)

As soon as in Iran, most will keep there to search for work. However a couple of hope to go farther. 

“We’re going to get to Europe,” stated Haroun, a 20-year-old sitting within the bus subsequent to his good friend Fuad. Again of their village there isn’t a work. “Now we have no alternative, the economic system here’s a wreck. Even when it means our loss of life on the way in which, we settle for that.” 

Afghans are streaming throughout the border into Iran in accelerating numbers, pushed by desperation. Because the Taliban takeover in mid-August, Afghanistan’s financial collapse has accelerated, robbing hundreds of thousands of labor and leaving them unable to feed their households. Up to now three months, greater than 300,000 individuals have crossed illegally into Iran, based on the Norwegian Refugee Council, and extra are coming on the price of 4,000 to five,000 a day. 

The European Union is now bracing for a possible swell in Afghans attempting to succeed in its shores at a time when EU nations are decided to lock down towards migrants usually. 

Up to now, a post-Taliban surge of Afghan migrants to Europe hasn’t materialized. Afghan entries into the EU have “remained largely steady,” based on an EU weekly migration report from Nov. 21. The report famous that some Afghans who arrived in Italy from Turkey in November advised authorities that they had fled their nation after the Taliban takeover. 

However a good portion of migrants probably intend to remain in Iran, which is struggling to close its doorways. It already hosts greater than 3 million Afghans who fled their homeland in the course of the previous many years of turmoil. 

Iran is stepping up deportations, sending 20,000 or 30,000 Afghans again each week. This yr, Iran deported greater than 1.1 million Afghans as of Nov. 21 — 30% larger than the entire in all of 2020, based on the Worldwide Group for Migration. These deported typically strive once more, again and again. 

In Afghanistan, the exodus has emptied some villages of their males. In Jar-e Sawz, a village north of Herat visited by The Related Press, an aged man was the one male left after all of the youthful males left. 

One smuggler in Herat — a lady concerned within the enterprise for 20 years — stated that earlier than the Taliban takeover, she was transporting 50 or 60 individuals per week into Iran, virtually all single males. Because the August takeover, she strikes round 300 individuals per week, together with ladies and youngsters. 

“The nation is destroyed so individuals have to go away,” she stated, talking on situation she not be named due to her work. “I really feel like I’m doing the correct factor. If some poor individual asks me, I can’t refuse them. I ask God to assist me assist them.” 

She prices the equal of just about $400 per individual, however solely about $16 up entrance, with the remainder paid after the migrant finds work. The pay-later system is widespread in Herat, an indication that there are such a lot of migrants, smugglers can settle for some danger that some might be unable to pay. Alongside the way in which, smugglers cross out bribes to Taliban, Pakistani and Iranian border guards to show a blind eye, she stated. 

Everybody going provides the identical purpose. 

“There may be nothing right here. There is no such thing as a work and our households are hungry,” stated Naib, a 20-year-old who was pausing with a gaggle of migrants one evening in a desolate space nearby of the Iranian border outdoors Herat. “We go crawling if now we have to. There is no such thing as a different alternative.” 

Afghanistan was already one of many poorest nations on the planet earlier than the Taliban takeover, and the economic system has deteriorated the previous yr, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a punishing drought since late 2020. 

When the Taliban got here to energy on Aug. 15, the primary artery conserving Afghanistan’s economic system alive — worldwide donor funds — was severed. With the Taliban authorities unable to pay salaries, lots of of 1000’s of state workers discovered themselves with no livelihoods. With funding for tasks gone, many roles vanished throughout the labor market. 

Taliban authorities check passports at the Afghanistan-Iran border crossing of Islam Qala, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. 

Taliban authorities examine passports on the Afghanistan-Iran border crossing of Islam Qala, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. 
(AP Picture/Petros Giannakouris)

Farid Ahmed, a 22-year-old in Herat, used to go to a predominant sq. every day to be employed by constructing contractors for a day’s work. Beforehand, he discovered work most days. “Now we wait all day and nobody comes to rent us,” he stated. 

So final month, he took his spouse and their two younger daughters — ages 8 months and a couple of years — throughout the border. From a relative already there, he heard {that a} Tehran weaving manufacturing unit had jobs for him and his spouse. 

The crossing was a nightmare, he stated. They needed to stroll for 3 hours within the darkness with a number of hundred different individuals throughout the border. Within the chilly and darkness, his daughters have been crying. As soon as in Iran, they have been virtually instantly caught by police and deported. 


Again dwelling, nothing has modified. He goes to the sq. daily however finds no work, he stated. So he’ll strive taking his household once more. “After winter,” he stated. “It’s too chilly now for the youngsters to cross.” 

Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest metropolis, is a predominant hub for Afghans from different components of the nation making their technique to Iran. 

The town is simply about an hour’s drive from the Iranian border, however the frontier is simply too closely patrolled right here. As an alternative, migrants embark on a 300-mile (480-kilometer) journey south to Nimrooz, a distant area of deserts and mountains that’s Afghanistan’s most sparsely populated province. Right here, the migrants cross right into a nook of Pakistan, from the place they’ll extra simply slip into Iran. 

It’s an arduous journey. Reza Rezaie, a Herat resident, made the journey along with his 17-year-old son. Probably the most harrowing second comes on the Iranian-Pakistani border, the place migrants should ascend after which descend Moshkelghar, actually “Troublesome Mountain,” on slender trails alongside steep drop-offs. 

Two Afghan men pray at a bus station in Herat, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, before they embark on a bus for a 300-mile trip south to Nimrooz near the Iranian border. 

Two Afghan males pray at a bus station in Herat, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, earlier than they embark on a bus for a 300-mile journey south to Nimrooz close to the Iranian border. 
(AP Picture/Petros Giannakouris)

“It’s pitch darkness and you’ll’t activate flashlights for safety,” he recalled. On the way in which up, they stroll in single file, every holding the headscarf of the individual in entrance of them. Descending on the Iranian facet, they gingerly crawl down in order that they don’t tumble off the sting. “For those who fall, nobody will aid you as a result of they are going to fall too,” he stated. 

At one level in Iran, he and others hid within the baggage compartment underneath a bus to get round checkpoints. He labored for a couple of weeks doing development in Shiraz earlier than he was caught in a police raid and expelled. 


However he’s undaunted. His father lately died, so he has to attend for the 40-day mourning interval to finish. Then he’ll strive Iran once more. 

“What else can I do? Right here, there’s nothing,” he stated. 

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