Naser Khan Zazai
Afghanistan has long been plagued by political instability and conflict, leading to the displacement of a significant portion of its population. This dire situation has created fertile ground for various forms of irregular migration, including human smuggling.
As thousands of Afghans seek to leave their war-torn homeland for better opportunities and safety, they often fall prey to the exploitation of human smugglers.
The Scale of Displacement
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 8.2 million Afghans have been forced out of their homes, with many seeking refuge in neighboring countries. As of mid-2021, approximately 2.2 million registered Afghan refugees were living in neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran.
Additionally, millions of Afghans have been internally displaced within their own country due to ongoing conflict and other factors.
Motivations for Irregular Migration
The reasons that drive individuals to seek irregular means of leaving Afghanistan are complex and multifaceted. Political persecution, armed conflict, security threats, economic instability, lack of opportunities, and the desire for a better life elsewhere all contribute to the desperation that leads people to turn to human smugglers.
Exploiting these circumstances, smugglers offer their services to those willing to pay for assistance in crossing borders illegally.
Exploitation and Modus Operandi
Human smugglers often prey on vulnerable individuals, charging exorbitant fees for their services and subjecting migrants to dangerous and inhumane conditions during their journey. These smugglers utilize various routes, including land, air, and sea, to transport individuals across borders while evading immigration authorities and checkpoints.
Distinguishing Human Smuggling from Human Trafficking
It is crucial to differentiate between human smuggling and human trafficking. While human smuggling involves the illegal transportation of individuals across borders, human trafficking constitutes a form of modern slavery, exploiting people through force, coercion, or deception for purposes such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, or organ trafficking.
Testimonies from Afghan Migrants
Umti Mohammadi, an Afghan individual seeking to reach a European country, shared his experience. He had approached a travel agency in Afghanistan and paid $15,000, depositing the money with a local money changer. The understanding was that once he reached his destination, the payment would be transferred to the agency.
However, during his journey through Iran, he and his fellow travelers became suspicious of the individuals associated with the agency. They refused to proceed further, suspecting them to be kidnappers demanding ransom. Umti Mohammadi warns fellow Afghans not to trust travel agencies, moneylenders, or intermediaries, as they are often connected to criminal networks.
Another heart-wrenching account comes from Samandar Kaka, a father from Paktia province. His son, who embarked on a smuggling route to Europe, has been missing for ten months.
The family last heard from him through a smuggler in an unknown area of Serbia. Despite their desperate search for information, human smugglers and traffickers have provided no answers. The anguish faced by families like Samandar Kaka underscores the ruthless exploitation occurring within the illicit migration networks.
Insights from an Afghan Smuggler
An Afghan smuggler, speaking anonymously, sheds light on the operations and demand for their services. Their clients come from various countries, with a significant number being Afghans. These smugglers have been operating for years, establishing networks and contacts in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Serbia, and other countries.
With the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, their client base has expanded as more people seek to leave.
Interestingly, some tourism agencies in Afghanistan act as intermediaries, referring clients to the smugglers.
The cost of human smuggling varies, with routes from Afghanistan to Turkey priced at $1,000, from Iran to Serbia at $5,500, and from Turkey to other destinations ranging from $5,000 to $7,000. Money is typically deposited with local money changers and transferred to the smugglers upon the safe arrival of the migrant at their destination.
Challenges and the Need for Action
Attempts to seek information and opinions from Taliban-controlled institutions in Afghanistan regarding this issue have been unsuccessful.
Smuggling and illegal migration pose significant challenges for the country. Beyond security threats and unemployment, the complicity of money changers, tourist companies, and agencies with kidnappers, fraudsters, and smugglers exacerbates the crisis. These illicit activities occur openly, seemingly under the control of the Taliban. The Taliban government must address these problems, ensuring the well-being and safety of its citizens.
To prevent further human suffering and exploitation, Afghanistan must focus on providing economic empowerment, and educational opportunities, and dismantling networks involved in illicit migration.
The plight of Afghan migrants seeking illegal routes abroad exposes the depths of human desperation and the ruthless exploitation by human smugglers. With millions displaced and aspirations for a better life, Afghans are driven to take dangerous risks.
The international community, including the Afghan government, must work together to dismantle smuggling networks, offer protection and support to vulnerable migrants, and address the root causes of irregular migration. Only through concerted efforts can we ensure the safety, well-being, and dignity of those affected by this dire situation.