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Iran’s Middle East proxy war: Afghan refugees in Syria

A new video from Syria has gone viral on media where four Afghan nationals have been purportedly shown by the Syrian rebels. Two teenage boys are seen among those taken hostage by the rebels during skirmishes. The group is said to be dispatched to Syria by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The men in the video speak in Dari—one of the two officials languages in Afghanistan. It is heart rending that they blamed unemployment as the main driving factor behind their decision to join Iran’s proxy war in the Middle East. Since Iran and Saudi Arabia have locked horns in the Middle East for political maneuvering therefore in a new escalation of its sectarian involvement in Syria, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is reportedly training and dispatching scores of Afghan refugees—most of them Shiite Hazaras to fight alongside President’s Bashar al-Assad forces. According to media reports nearly 3,000 Afghan refugees have been sent to Syria.  Over the past few months, scores have been killed and wounded.

The driving force that goads them on joining Assad’s forces is that Iran’s government has offered them permanent residency in Iran and other benefits. Syria’s sectarian rift, between a Shiite axis of Iran, Assad and Hezbollah, and rebel groups backed by Sunni Arab governments, has caused thousands of deaths and rendered millions homeless.

There are about 2.5 million Afghans living in Iran, a third of them registered refugees and the remainder economic migrants. The problem is that Afghans have always allowed themselves to be used as elements of proxy wars, which has always created troubles for their very much own homeland. This time, Iran’s use of Afghan refugees as elements of proxy war, is likely to have serious fallouts for Afghanistan—a country which has already been gripped by serious militancy. Iran’s meddling in Afghanistan has oft-times slammed but in the recent years Tehran started scaling back its intrusion inside Afghanistan but found a new opportunity in Afghan refugees living on its soil by sending them to Syria to safeguard its own foreign policy objectives.

Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of coalition forces must have been positive but unfortunately it didn’t happen as it has been deporting Afghan refugees and at the same time sending Afghan refugees to the Middle East. In the wake of Iran’s decision in 2007 to expel Afghan refugees, its then minister for interior said the international community must be sensitive to this issue. Since then Afghan refugees have been targeted, tortured, killed, jailed and also raped. Once, Iranian officials said there was no reason why they should tolerate a large number of refugees who have entered Iran and why should a group of people—the US and its coalition forces, come from the other side of the world to Afghanistan and Iranians must pay the price? In such a situation the blame is on the Afghan government as billions of dollars were funneled into the country in the name of reconstruction, but unfortunately millions were stashed back into foreign accounts and refugees coming from Iran and Pakistan find no reason to stay here as the ministry concerned is inefficient and the government is engrossed in certain other matters, particularly in internal bickering. Why the government failed in relocating these refugees from Iran and Pakistan? Iran deports over 25,000 Afghans on monthly basis whereas the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has raised its concerns over the issue. But where is the government’s standpoint and if it has any plan regarding the repatriation of the refugees, the nation wants to know.

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