Afghans f lood out of Iran as sanc­tions bite and prices rise

The Daily Telegraph - - World news - By Ben Farmer SOUTH ASIA COR­RE­SPON­DENT and Akhtar Makoii in Herat

A BIT­TER wind scours the desert out­side Herat as minibus after minibus drops off its pas­sen­gers at a camp for Afghans re­turn­ing from Iran.

Car­ry­ing mea­gre bun­dles of pos­ses­sions, work­ing men, fam­i­lies and even chil­dren pon­der their prospects back in their home­land.

Smug­gling them­selves into Iran has long been a com­mon choice for Afghans seek­ing money and safety, but the stream of those com­ing back has swollen sharply this year.

Iran’s econ­omy is strug­gling un­der re­newed US sanc­tions and the at­trac­tion of a coun­try that once held the prom­ise of a fi­nan­cial life­line for poverty-stricken Afghans is wan­ing.

The same eco­nomic woes blamed for a spate of Ira­nian mi­grants tak­ing dinghies across the English Chan­nel are caus­ing a flood of Afghans to re­turn home.

About 780,000 un­doc­u­mented Afghans re­turned in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM), the high­est fig­ure since records be­gan seven years ago.

Many had been de­ported after be­ing rounded up by po­lice, but the num­ber of peo­ple choos­ing to come back dou­bled from the pre­vi­ous year, to 355,000.

Jan Mo­ham­mad, a 55-year-old from War­dak prov­ince, said the fal­ter­ing econ­omy made his life as a ca­sual day labourer un­sus­tain­able.

“Since last year prices sky­rock­eted and it was im­pos­si­ble for us to live there,” he told The Daily Tele­graph. He and his fam­ily first set out from Iran to claim asy­lum in Europe, only to be stopped on the Turk­ish bor­der.

Me­hdi, a 25-year-old, said ris­ing prices de­voured wages from his fac­tory job in Da­ma­vand, 50 miles east of Tehran.

“Dur­ing the last year or so, we could just earn enough to spend on food. It was im­pos­si­ble to save money,” he said.

“If you don’t work one day in Iran, you will be hun­gry that day and have noth­ing to eat. Com­pared with last year, prices have tripled.” Don­ald Trump, the US pres­i­dent, reim­posed a range of sanc­tions on Iran last year after pulling out of the 2015 in­ter­na­tional nu­clear deal he claimed was too soft on Tehran.

Wash­ing­ton has vowed to wage a cam­paign of “max­i­mum pres­sure” on Iran’s econ­omy to force it to ac­cept tougher lim­its on its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grammes.

The sanc­tions have added to ex­ist­ing eco­nomic weak­ness, send­ing the rial into a dive and set­ting off gal­lop­ing in­fla­tion. The cur­rency fell 60 per cent last year and in­fla­tion is 40 per cent. Eco­nomic pain has con­trib­uted to spo­radic street protests since late in 2017.

The “mas­sive in­crease” in re­turn­ing Afghans was “largely driven by re­cent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic is­sues in Iran in­clud­ing mas­sive cur­rency de­val­u­a­tion,” the IOM said. “As Afghans pri­mar­ily work in the in­for­mal econ­omy in Iran, the de­mand for this type of work is dras­ti­cally re­duced.”

Afghans still in Iran said the sit­u­a­tion was driv­ing peo­ple to Europe. “Life is even get­ting worse for Ira­ni­ans,” said Haji Shak­our in Saveh, 60 miles south-west of the cap­i­tal.

“I know many Ira­ni­ans who left the coun­try and went to Europe or Canada. Sanc­tions have a very big im­pact on my life. Ev­ery­thing is chang­ing; prices are get­ting high ev­ery day.”

The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund has pre­dicted that the re­ces­sion, which Iran slipped into last year, will deepen in 2019.

The US sanc­tions on en­ergy, ship­ping and fi­nance were only fully reim­posed in Novem­ber and have yet to be com­pletely felt.

Yet those re­turn­ing to Afghanistan face one of the worst droughts in decades and grow­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties from the gov­ern­ment strug­gle with the Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

“I’m also con­sid­er­ing leav­ing, but not to Afghanistan be­cause I don’t want to go from bad to worse,” said Haji Shak­our. “I may go to Tur­key.”

‘I know many Ira­ni­ans who left the coun­try and went to Europe … Sanc­tions have a very big im­pact on my life’

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