Thousands of Afghans forced out of work in Iran

Frontier Post, July 11, 2001

ISLAMABAD (NNI): Thousands of Afghans in Iran have been forced out of work due to a new fine imposed on Iranians who have employed them.“Thousands of Afghans have been dismissed from their posts over the past few weeks,” the UNHCR acting head of mission in Tehran, Bo Schack said.

Under the new law, imposed two weeks ago, an employer must pay the government the equivalent of US $25 for each Afghan worker.

The fine was put in place after authorities came under intense pressure, and most recently from May Day demonstration by Iranians who demanded action against Afghans working illegally in the country.

With unemployment hovering at 15 percent, Iranians complain that Afghans are taking jobs away from them.

However, Schack dismissed this claim, saying the jobs taken by Afghans were at a very low manual level, earning around US $2.5 daily, and did not pose a serious threat to the Iranians, but that it had pushed the government into adopting measures to reduce unemployment.

UNHCR is very concerned that the situation may “further inflame relations” between Iranians and Afghans, and “push Afghans towards criminal activities”, in order to survive.

Schack cited an example where factories in southern Tehran had sacked Afghan employees and were subsequently forced to close down due to lack of interest from the Iranian workforce.

“The Afghans are a good choice for employers, because they are cheap labour, he explained.

Currently home to at least two million Afghans, Iran has said it cannot cope with the huge community, and the imposing of the fine is another indicator that the host nation is becoming restless with the situation.

There have also been recent reports of Iranian youths clashing with Afghan refugees, protesting against their heavy presence in the country.

While unable to provide exact details, Schack said, “I can confirm that there have been several incidents of this sort.” The Iranian police have also been rounding up Afghans, but he said they were not being deported and that the move was linked to the employment situation.

A registration programme for refugees in Iran during the first six months of this year confirmed that there were at least two million Afghan refugees in the country.

Iran is home to one of the largest Afghan refugee communities in the world, and Schack said the Iranian authorities now faced a dilemma over what to do with them.

“It is clear that the Iranian government feels that it is faced with an overwhelming problem,” he said.

The number of Afghans had been increasing due to the ongoing drought and fighting in their homeland, he added.

However, this new fine has prompted many to return home.

“There has been a significant increase in spontaneous repatriation following announcement of the new fine,” Schack maintained.

He said nearly 10,000 Afghans had left Iran in the last six weeks.

Of the 183,000 refugees who returned to Afghanistan last year, some 133,612 were directly assisted by UNHCR, and around 50,000 returned spontaneously under facilities supported by the Iranian interior ministry.

Schack said the situation for Afghan refugees was now getting very serious.

The Iranians are very tired of being confronted with this situation without any light at the end of the tunnel.

“We don’t expect an early solution,” Schack warned.

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