Iran officially stopped issuing residency cards to Afghans in 2007, which means that roughly two million people are living in fear being deported – as just under a quarter were last year – discriminated against, and exploited.
The fate of these refugees depends on their ability to navigate Iranian laws and bureaucracy, often with the help of bribes. Many are forced to find sympathetic people in Iran, who will put a house or business in their name, but even this can easily be exploited by the wrong people.
One Afghan businessman in Mashad, who requested anonymity because he fears what will happen to him if the Regime finds out he has spoken to the press, said: “No matter how much money we have, our lives are valued less here. Without citizenship rights, doors to opportunity are closed. That’s why so many Afghans are heading to Turkey.”
However, it is the children who suffer the most. Afghani refugee children often face a brutal life in Iran, with many forced to work on the black market, subjected to physical and sexual abuse, exposed to drugs, or even sent off to fight Iran’s wars across the Middle East.
While the Regime has allowed undocumented children to attend school since 2015, many are also working alongside their parents in harsh fields like construction, agriculture, garbage collection, and carpet-weaving. While the Regime has no official statistics, Afghan child workers are visible throughout Tehran.
Saeed Hasanzadeh, an Istanbul-based Iranian youth activist who used to work with a non-governmental organization that supports Afghan refugee children, said: “Parents need money to feed their kids, and that’s why they’ll send their kids to work instead of school. In some families, all four or five children have to work to make ends meet.”
He went on to say that many Afghan children are working in the black market where exploitation is rife.
Even in the most tragic of circumstances, Afghans do not feel safe seeking out justice.
Dawood Alizada, the father of six-year-old Afghan refugee Neda, who was murdered in March, has spoken out about his fears of retaliation from the family of his daughter’s killer after he is sentenced.
He said: “We want justice, but that could cost us our safety here. Our lives aren’t worth the same as an Iranian’s.”
Racism against Afghans is an integral part of the Iranian Regime’s rule. It will only stop once the Regime is removed from power and anti-discrimination laws put in place. That’s why the international community should support the Iranian people’s wish for regime change, something that will be a major topic at the Free Iran Gathering in Paris on June 30.