Nearly Half a Million Afghan Migrants Leave Iran amid U.S. Sanctions, Collapsing Economy

An Afghan man returns to the Afghan province of Herat from Iran, part of an exodus of migrant workers fleeing Iran's economic turmoil. (Hoshang Hashimi / AFP/Getty Images)
Hoshang Hashimi / AFP/Getty Images

Nearly half a million Afghan migrants have left Iran and returned home since January because of its weak economy, worsened by U.S. sanctions, a report from the Los Angeles Times detailed on Thursday.

Despite the violence and uncertainty within their own country, a record 442,344 Afghans have voluntarily left or been deported from Iran due to its currency crisis and high rates of inflation, which have triggered unrest by reducing the value of people’s savings while driving down wages.

Since January, the Iranian riyal has lost 80 percent of its value as the prices of food and basic goods continue to rise. As a result, anti-government demonstrations have become a common occurrence.

The exodus of Afghans is expected to grow as the effect of reimposed U.S. sanctions begins to affect Iran’s ability to trade and gain foreign currency. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 20,000 of the five million Afghans living in Iran are leaving the country every week in search of other opportunities. 

“The number of Afghan returnees from Iran in 2018 has been unprecedented,” IOM spokeswoman Eva Schwoerer told AFP this month. 

Around half of Afghans living in Iran are living there illegally, mainly working as laborers on construction and agricultural sites. The ongoing economic crisis, combined with a severe regional drought, has dramatically reduced the demand for such work, while their overall spending power continues to slide as a result of inflation.

Things are unlikely to improve in the short term in Afghanistan, a country host to multiple armed conflicts and one of the most severe terror threats in the world from the Taliban and Islamic State. A regional drought has also caused food shortages in two-thirds of the country, a problem analysts believe will worsen due to the influx of unemployed men.

Some of the departees are Afghans who fought in Syria alongside Iranian militia known as Fatemiyoun Division, trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Despite once enjoying higher incomes and greater privileges than most Afghan migrants, many of them are now being laid off and in search of new opportunities. 

“Less money coming from working males who are instead returning home to no job — combined with drought and resource competition with other returnees — will have a significant impact on the Afghan economy,” Nicholas Bishop, an emergency response officer for the International Organization for Migration in Kabul, told the Times.

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