9 July 2007. A World to Win News Service. A campaign to kick out Afghan refugees in Iran is continuing unabated. Between late April and late June, the Islamic Republic of Iran rounded up more than 100,000 Afghans working in Iran and dumped them on the other side of the border.
Iran originally had planned to deport 5,000 Afghans per day. In the first three weeks of the campaign, the government threw out 80,000 refugees. This provoked opposition in Iran itself (including an open letter signed by writers and other intellectuals) and in Afghanistan. There were several protests in Kabul, many leaflets and statements and reports, all condemning the Iranian regime and its brutal treatment of the Afghan refugees. A demonstration by Afghan residents in Germany took place in Frankfurt 31 June. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan also felt compelled to issue an official protest. In the face of all this, Tehran had to scale down its deportations to 2,000 per day. But it did not stop.
Expulsions of refugees from Afghanistan have been going on with varying degrees of intensity for the last two decades. They have been an integral part of Tehran’s policy of maintaining permanent pressure on Afghan refugees and workers resident in Iran. In 2006, Iran threw out around 146,000 Afghan refugees and workers. In the past, many of them would return to Iran, along with new job-seekers. There was a continuous flow back and forth across the border. Now the Iranian regime seems to be not only deporting people but brutalizing them more than ever in an effort to discourage them from coming back.
The current campaign is certainly one of the biggest and most vicious. The Iranian authorities “are behaving very badly with the deportees”, a UN High Commission for Refugees official in the border town of Islam Qala told the Associated Press. “Maltreatment is common, and abuses for all of them.” (International Herald Tribune, 18 June) A medical examiner who does checkups at a UN facility on the Afghan side of the border said he had treated at least seven men who had been severely beaten, with broken collarbones, legs and arms and stitches on their faces. Anyone who resisted was beaten. Three men were thrown from the top of a construction site where they were working, and then deported without treatment for their injuries. They were admitted to hospital in Herat, in Afghanistan, which confirmed the death of at least one of them.
When the Islamic Republic of Iran launched its campaign, its security forces raided the workplaces and homes of Afghan immigrants and beat and insulted them as “Afghan trash”. Police took many of them away without informing their family or giving them time to collect their wages or savings. Many were not even allowed to pack their few simple belongings. Then those arrested were herded into courtyards and filthy, crowded detention centres, where they were kept for days before finally being driven to the border and dumped on the other side. After working for decades in Iran, many ended up with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing. Most had no place to go and now found themselves without food or shelter. While most of the deportees were men, whole families were also thrown out, and more than a few ended up torn apart when parents were rounded up while their children were still in school.
Iranian officials claimed that their only aim was to expel those working “illegally”. This would be bad enough if it were true, but it is not. On numerous reported occasions the regime’s thugs stole or even grabbed refugees’ IDs and tore them up. Although the Iranian government had announced a plan to expel what they said were 1.5 million “illegal” immigrants, their security forces have made little distinction between “illegals” and the 950,000 “legally” registered Afghans living in Iran. This is an anti-Afghan pogrom pure and simple.
What drove Afghan refugees to Iran
Millions of people in Afghanistan have become homeless and displaced during the wars over the last three decades. Interventions by imperialist powers and regional reactionary states have been Afghanistan’s main problem. Efforts to influence and control the country led to the country’s invasion by the imperialist Soviet Union and an occupation that lasted a decade. Since then a whole series of reactionary wars have been imposed or fanned from abroad. The oppressed people of Afghanistan have either been under the domination of Islamic rulers dependent on foreign powers (like the Taleban, first brought to power by Pakistan with the approval of the US) or under direct foreign imperialist occupation. The latest is the occupation of the country by the Western imperialists (Nato) headed by the US since 2001. As a result, millions of people lost their homes, jobs and basic security and were forced to leave their villages and towns. The majority of them went to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, where they sought refuge for their family or work so that they could send at least something to keep their family back home from starvation.
The number of Afghan refugees and workers in Iran before the US invasion was estimated to be between 2-3 million. After the US invaded Afghanistan, the Iranian regime tightened the border controls to keep more refugees from entering the country. Lately, using the excuse that life in American-occupied Afghanistan has returned to “normal”, the Iranian regime has been putting increasing pressure on Afghans to leave.
A specific feature of the hard life of the several million workers and refugees from Afghanistan in Iran over the last three decades has been the extreme violation of their basic rights, job insecurity, and the extortion and stealing and bullying they have endured at the hands of the Iranian regime and its thugs. They have also had to suffer mistreatment and insults and a nauseating atmosphere of chauvinism as the regime and its media have tried to blame the Afghan refugees and workers for all the country’s woes.
Afghan workers in Iran have been doing the harshest jobs under the worst conditions in brick factories, fields and farmhouses, poultry farms and slaughterhouses, construction sites and stone quarries, digging wells, and, in the cities, cleaning streets and collecting rubbish in order to nourish their families. In many cases their paltry wages have been confiscated by employers or extorted by security forces such as border guards or Pasdaran (the so-called Revolutionary Guards) when they are stopped for ID checks. Now the Iranian rulers are going even further in their persecution and brutality.
Some analysis of the recent campaign
Some international observers believe that the regime’s crusade against the Afghans is basically an act of retaliation against Afghanistan’s Karzai regime and its US masters, motivated by US-led international pressure and economic sanctions and particularly Washington’s recent accusations that Iran is providing military support to the Taleban. While this could be one reason, it cannot fully explain a crackdown that has been in preparation for many months.
For its part, the Iranian regime blames the Afghan refugees for unemployment and accuses them of consuming the country’s wealth and resources. As the Iranian ambassador in Kabul said, “The enormous number of Afghan refugees and undocumented migrants takes a huge chunk out of Iran’s subsidized health care and basic infrastructure.” (IHT, 18 June). This Western reactionary media outlet shares this sentiment and implicitly approves the regime’s move by adding, “Afghan migrants are an enormous burden on [Iran’s] economy”.
Officials have announced that by expelling the Afghan refugees they would create some 100,000 job opportunities and that they were planning to increase that number to 300,000-400,000. The Islamic Republic of Iran has certainly learned one important trick from the governments of the imperialist powers who blame immigrants for unemployment and other problems that are integral parts of their economic and social system. With this cover-up, they are trying to divert the discontent of the people and promote rivalries and hostility among the masses. While the regime’s recent moves are a continuation of the anti-people policies of the eras of presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, its scale and brutality suggest specific goals right now.
The harassment of Afghan immigrants has escalated in the last few years. In 2003 all Afghan refugees and workers were obliged to hand their residency card in exchange for a new temporary card. During a six-month period starting last autumn, officials from the Labour and Interior ministries and security forces inspected more than 200,000 workplaces looking for Afghan workers to expel. The government also introduced new measures to pressure employers who employ “illegal” Afghan workers. New restrictions on Afghan immigrants include depriving their children of education in public schools. These measures came on top of already existing ones such as the denial of the right to move around Iran freely, to have a job and to receive health insurance.
Those who shamelessly talk about how Afghan immigrants are “using up” Iranian resources are well aware that the wealth these hardworking people produce is much greater than the insignificant resources that these workers and their poor families consume.
First of all, the living standards of those who work the sort of jobs allowed to Afghan refugees are not that different from those of the Iranian unemployed. Secondly, without the already very cheap labour of Afghan immigrants, this economy would be even more paralysed and deeper in crisis.
No matter what their ambitions may be, Iran’s ruling bureaucrat bourgeoisie are economically dependent on the imperialist world market and financial system. In order to ensure the profitability of capital, especially in the context of today’s international competition, they need super cheap labour. The aim is to make the exploitation of the Afghan workers and refugees more “efficient” by creating a state of terror that combined with their uncertain and unstable situation will be used to further reduce the price of their labour, keeping mainly those who are more able and reducing the number of non-working family members (even though most of the children were born in Iran) while depriving them of any of the services available in society. As Iran’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Muhammad Bahrami said, the deportations would continue until a “suitable conclusion to our project.” (IHT 18 June)
The sacrifice of the lives of these working people and their children is one reason why a narrow layer in the society becomes fatter and fatter. This is why the children of the immigrants are deprived of education – so that the poverty of this section of the people is reproduced and the slave-like conditions under which they work for the Iranian comprador capitalists and the Islamic regime is ensured for generations. This is why out of the 2.5 million immigrants, including a million with legal residency, work permits for less than 1,000 have been approved.
The Iranian regime’s role in Afghanistan’s crisis
For many years Iran’s Islamic regime has manipulated the issue of Afghan refugees to further its anti-communist propaganda and propagate dark religious ideas. In the first few years after the Iranian revolution, a great many of the Afghan immigrants were jihadi or pro-jihadi. They were used to help spread religious fundamentalism in the region. In Iran, the regime used them to help suppress the communists, including both pro-Soviet revisionists (phoney communists) and the genuinely revolutionary forces, who enjoyed much popularity at the time of the fall of the Shah in 1979, especially among students and intellectuals. Many refugees took part in activities like violently attacking demonstrations and burning red flags.
For many years the Iranian regime supported Afghanistan’s criminal warlords financially and militarily. Both during the resistance to the Soviet occupation and when they seized power with the help of the West in early 90s, these warlords made life hell for the people in Afghanistan. Along with other warlords, reactionary parties such as the Shia Hezebe Vahdat-e-eslami (Islamic Unity Party) and the Hezbe Harakat-e-eslami (Islamic Movement Party) have always been the favourites of the Iranian Islamic regime. Iran has frequently sent its personnel and experts to Afghanistan in order to train and organise the groups such as the Shia militia Sepah-e-Mohammad in the Hazarajat area. The Iranian regime expanded its military and political influence and also continued to propagate its brand of Islamic fundamentalist ideology in Afghanistan through these parties and organisations.
Along with the similarly Islamic regime in Pakistan and the imperialist powers, the Iranian regime has played an important role in the disastrous events in Afghanistan that have led that country to the verge of destruction. The Iranian regime pretends that its main connection with Afghanistan and Afghans is that it has “hosted” several million Afghan immigrants. This is a shameful lie. It has played an important ideological and military role in spreading medieval religious views and the chaining of women in Afghanistan and in suppressing the revolutionary communists in that country. At least up until very recently, it has played an important role in facilitating the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and its allies. In short, the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the criminals involved in the destruction of Afghanistan, and it must be held responsible and condemned for that, alongside the big imperialist powers.
Further, workers and other toilers from Afghanistan, Afghan women and intellectuals, those who have lived in Iran and those who have not, all have a role to play in overthrowing the anti-people Iranian regime. Afghan immigrants in Iran, the refugees and other workers in Iran, are part of the most oppressed section of the people in Iran and are an integral part of the Iranian working class.