Business booms for asylum middlemen in Afghan exodus

Sat Jul 27, 2013 9:35pm EDT
 
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By Rob Taylor and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - In a brightly lit travel agency in a gloomy Kabul mall, business is booming for Naser Gulzad. But all he can think about is shutting up shop and following his customers out of Afghanistan.

Like many Afghans watching the exit of NATO-led troops and fearing a comeback by the Taliban or the country's notorious warlords, Gulzad wants desperately to join an exodus gathering pace ahead of what is expected to be a tumultuous 2014.

"People are really worried about their own future and the future of Afghanistan. I want to leave as soon as I can," the quiet 25-year-old says, stroking a thin beard.

"NATO soldiers are leaving, there will be elections, a new president, maybe the Taliban. People are ready to do whatever they can to seek asylum in Europe or other countries like Australia, the United States, Canada," Gulzad says.

These days, most of his work is as a coordinator for shadowy people traffickers based largely in neighboring Pakistan and employing Afghan middlemen to aid their business. Demand to leave is so strong that prices of "packages" paid by Afghans to seek asylum elsewhere are soaring.

For those that have the money, a package might mean a new identity, a visa and flight to a new life, while for lesser sums it could secure a flight to a third country and a risky asylum journey by boat or land at the other end.

Gulzad does not see his work as illegal. He arranges tickets, as well as pointing people to others able to provide fake identity documents, invitation letters and even passports, to either underpin asylum bids or secure precious visas.

While he does not set the prices, and takes only a cut of money paid to traffickers who send work his way, Gulzad says that as the difficulty of getting people through foreign borders has increased, so has the cost.   Continued...

 
Naser Gulzad, 25, prays in his Kabul home July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail