Iran pushes out Afghans as regional power-play heats up

Sun Dec 2, 2012 5:55am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Ghaus worked in Iran for five years but has nothing to show for it. All he has are memories of being jailed, beaten and sent home to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's oil-rich western neighbor has for years been a destination for Afghans seeking work or fleeing war. Afghanistan and Iran share a language, and cultural and historical links.

But hostility to the U.S. role in Afghanistan, regional ambitions and an economy choked by Western sanctions have persuaded Iran to cast out Afghan migrants, to the dismay of those forced home and their government.

In May, Iran threatened to expel Afghan refugees and migrant workers, in all about 2.4 million people, if Afghanistan signed a strategic security pact with the United States. The deal was struck.

"Afghan refugees and migrants are becoming the victims of big political games played between the Iranian and U.S. powers," said Abdul Samad Hami, Afghanistan's deputy minister for refugees.

Few of the migrants, who pay smugglers about $700 to get across the 1,000 km (620 miles) border into Iran, know they have been caught up in a geopolitical power play.

Barefoot and wearing a sun-bleached silver turban, Ghaus was huddled with about 20 other expelled migrants at a U.N. center in the western Afghan city of Herat after being dumped out of a bus on the border.

"Suddenly, my life came to an end," the soft-spoken bricklayer told Reuters.   Continued...

A group of Afghan migrant workers enter Afghan territory after leaving Iran at the Islam Qala border in Herat province November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoib