Multidimensional Misfortune: Exploitation of Afghan Migrants by Neighboring Countries for Trade

By: Fahim Sotuda

Society has been plagued by countless calamities, as waves of misfortune and absurdity engulf every aspect, leading to the ruination of society. The root cause of this disaster is the absence of the rule of law, which is attributed to various factors, with the main one in the current situation being the Taliban group.

The social, cultural, economic, and political catastrophes are so extensive that listing them all becomes an impossible task. An example of these calamities is the ongoing migration of Afghans, particularly those with scientific knowledge and technical skills. Those who manage to escape the rule of the Taliban and seek refuge in distant or neighboring countries encounter new troubles there. Millions of Afghan refugees currently reside in Pakistan and Iran, where they face severe economic and political pressures. If an Afghan individual commits an error in a country, they are collectively held responsible and forced to bear the consequences. When the neighboring countries’ governments face financial constraints, they resort to extorting money from Afghan refugees, a practice that is becoming increasingly widespread and diverse each day. The people of Afghanistan are compelled to leave their country due to economic, political, and security issues, and Iran and Pakistan are well aware of this necessity. However, they exploit the existing situation to their advantage. Whenever they encounter challenges with international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) concerning payments for hosting Afghan refugees, they harass and detain groups of refugees. In times of economic hardship, they manage to extract money from Afghan refugees. Consequently, the migration of Afghans to Pakistan and Iran has become a profitable market for these countries.

On one hand, refugees serve as cheap labor and are engaged in the most strenuous work. On the other hand, they do not receive any support or services from the host governments. They lack access to formal education, employment opportunities, healthcare, and insurance services. The residents of our neighboring countries are stratified into different classes, with Afghan refugees occupying the lowest class. They have no government or international organizations to advocate for them and provide support, leaving them no choice but to endure the hardships of living legally or illegally in these two countries. Consequently, the governments of these two countries have closed legal immigration channels and avenues for seeking asylum, facilitating transactions and interactions solely in the black market. This illicit market exploits refugees and asylum seekers for financial gain, while the governments evade their responsibility to provide necessary services.

Obtaining legal visas for Iran and Pakistan from Afghanistan is exceedingly rare, forcing Afghan applicants to purchase visas from the black market at exorbitant prices. The cost of a Pakistani visa, which used to be free but now requires a fee of 18 dollars, escalates to nearly 100 times more in the black market. Presently, a one-year visa for Pakistan with a two-month stay is traded in the range of $1,200 to $1,500 in the black market. Individuals whose lives are in danger or who have immigration cases are compelled to gather and pay this exorbitant amount. Some unscrupulous individuals in this market engage in deceitful practices by distributing counterfeit visas in exchange for substantial sums of money. Applicants who present such visas at border crossings or airports not only waste their money and time but also fall into the hands of the Taliban, subjecting themselves to interrogation and torture.

Upon arrival in Pakistan, Afghan asylum seekers must undergo a short period of legal stay before applying for a visa extension. Despite the payment of application fees for visa extensions to the Pakistani government, these requests are met with silence, and Afghan refugees’ visas are not extended through legal channels. Meanwhile, the Pakistani police exert pressure on refugees, detaining them for not possessing updated visas and extorting money from them. Consequently, Afghan refugees in Pakistan are compelled to turn to the black market to renew their visas, all the while being deprived of the right to work.

The situation worsens for those who cannot afford to pay these fees. Hundreds of thousands of refugees who entered Pakistan unlawfully find themselves in an even more precarious position, facing the constant threat of detention, imprisonment, and forced repatriation to a country still under the control of the Taliban. International migration organizations have made no substantial efforts to address these issues. In particular, the UNHCR in Pakistan has even suspended the issuance of immigration cards, leaving applicants who applied over a year ago without a response. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), responsible for processing migrant cases, lacks the necessary staff. Given the high volume of cases, this institution must enhance its manpower and administrative capacity to effectively handle them.

In Iran, numerous problems persist, often with even greater complexity. Some Afghan refugees who entered Iran legally are required to return to Afghanistan and re-enter Iran when renewing their visas. These individuals bear the costs of these trips and also face the risk of arrest by the Taliban during their entry into Afghanistan. Reza Shahir’s case serves as an example, as he was imprisoned by the Taliban when attempting to enter Afghanistan for visa renewal purposes. This situation has led to the emergence of another black market in Iran, exploiting Afghan refugees financially. In exchange for exorbitant sums, market dealers facilitate the transfer of refugees’ passports and visas to border crossings to obtain exit and entry stamps. However, even this market is not without risks, including the possibility of counterfeit stamps. If a stamp is discovered to be fake, refugees must contend with Iranian law enforcement authorities.

One of the challenges faced by Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran is how the respective police forces deal with them due to the actions of others. Recently in Pakistan, hundreds of Afghan refugees have been arrested on charges of not possessing updated immigration documents. While some have been released after paying bribes or with the mediation and guarantees of locals, the majority remain in detention. Rumors suggest that Pakistani police have informed certain migrants that one or two Afghans residing in France insulted Qamar Javed Bajwa, the former Chief of the Pakistani Army Staff, and that they are now teaching all Afghans a “lesson.” If these statements are accurate, they exemplify the proverb, “A blacksmith committed a sin in Balkh, but a goldsmith was beheaded in Shushtar.” In Iran, the issue of water from the Helmand River has led to an intensification of arrests and deportations of Afghan refugees. Just a few days ago, during a Central Asia tournament match between the national football teams of Afghanistan and Iran, with Afghanistan losing 1-6, two Afghan refugees in Iran recorded a video expressing their happiness at their country’s defeat. In the video, one of them states that had Afghanistan won, they would have faced the risk of deportation.

The immense pressure faced by refugees in neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran stems from the absence of a legitimate government in Afghanistan. The lack of a legitimate government stands as the primary cause behind the overwhelming influx of migrants. Moreover, the neighboring countries hosting millions of Afghan refugees display a disregard for their international obligations. These Afghan refugees lack the support of a governing body that could exert pressure on the host governments, ensuring their compliance with international obligations. Consequently, as long as this substantial flow of Afghan migration persists into neighboring countries, the black market will continue to exploit them, and the harassment by the local police forces will persist.

This exodus will only cease when a legitimate and lawful government takes charge. The influx can be curtailed if a legitimate government comes into power, ensuring that the advantages of residing in Afghanistan surpass those of immigrating to Iran and Pakistan. The people of Afghanistan, both men and women, should be granted the rights to livelihood, employment, freedom, education, and other fundamental human rights. These objectives cannot be attained under the rule of the Taliban, who attribute poverty to divine will, evade responsibility for the chaotic economic state of the nation, and enforce their distorted and conflicting interpretations of Islam to determine human rights. As long as the Taliban dictates the fate of the people and controls the country’s political and economic landscape, the incentives to reside within Afghanistan will not outweigh those of immigration. Hence, mass migration will persist, and more Afghans will be compelled to endure the hardships associated with relocating to neighboring countries.

Nevertheless, the current circumstances should not be regarded as the inescapable destiny of the Afghan people. Taking into account the policies and conduct of the Taliban, it is evident that this situation will not endure indefinitely. This group has burdened the populace, but one day the people will find a resolution to the country’s political predicament. On that day, the people of Afghanistan will have to leave their homeland less frequently and suffer fewer indignities.