KABUL: High unemployment and deteriorating security is forcing hundreds of Afghan youths to risk an often perilous journey with ruthless smugglers in the search of a better life.
Pakistani medial staff cover the dead bodies of illegal migrants at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan on Saturday, April 4, 2009. At least 62 Afghans, many of them young boys, suffocated to death in the back of a truck packed with illegal migrants.(AP Photos)
Some pay with their lives. Others, such as Sher Rahman, spend thousands of dollars for the journey only to find themselves right back in Afghanistan.
"Anyone using the smuggling routes is putting himself in the jaws of death," Rahman told Pajhwok Afghan News when recalling his own journey.
Rahman, was unemployed and living in Kabul, when he decided to leave the country for London two years ago. He never made it, reaching only as far as Greece before he was arrested and deported back to Afghanistan two weeks ago.
Talking about the journey, Rahman said smugglers did not care about their human cargo. They packed 28 people onto a boat that could hold only 12.
He said he watched as some of his fellow travelers jumped overboard when the boat looked like it might sink.
Four of those who jumped were Afghans and two were Pakistanis, he said.
When they reached the coast, they walked for full day and night across the mountains.
Along the way, they would see piles of human bones, the remains Rahman believes of those refugees who were too ill or tired to walk anymore.
At one point, he added, they did not have enough food to eat and had to slaughter a goat. However, locals in the area informed the police and they were arrested.
He said they were in police custody for three days before being transferred to Athens and deported. He said he would never have tried to go abroad if there were job opportunities in Afghanistan.
Three decades of war have decimated Afghanistan's economic infrastructure. Millions of Afghans live abroad, in Iran, Pakistan and the West. Unemployment is about 35 per cent across the country, but in the cities, where there is a constant flood of migrants, finding a job is even harder.
Afghan children sorts bricks at the Sadat Ltd. Brick factory, where they work from 8am to 5 pm daily, on May 14, 2010. (Photo: Getty Images)
Faced with dire poverty, a perilous security situation and limited economic opportunities, many youth like Rahman opt to put their lives in the hands of the smugglers.
Noor Muhammad Siddiq, a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugee Affairs, said a large number of youth were trying to reach Europe via smuggling routes.
He said millions of Afghans were living in Iran, Pakistan and Europe.
Nadir Nadiri, a spokesman for the Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan, said the only way to discourage human smuggling was to create job opportunities for youth inside the country.
Unemployment was a serious problem and many youth end up in the hands of smugglers, Zahir Kargar, the head of the Workers Union in Kabul, said.
In an attempt to improve the chances of young Afghans, the Ministry of Works and Social Welfare said it was setting up skill development centres across the country, especifically for youth.
He said such centres could be in every province if the security situation improved.
Najeeb Mahmood, a teacher at Kabul University, said it was impossible to overcome unemployment without peace in the country.