Wall Street Journal: Some Afghan lawmakers condemned what they said was Iran’s exploitation of Afghan refugees by sending them to fight for the regime in Syria and called on the government to investigate.
The Wall Street Journal
By Farnaz Fassihi and Ehsanullah Amiri
Some Afghan lawmakers condemned what they said was Iran’s exploitation of Afghan refugees by sending them to fight for the regime in Syria and called on the government to investigate.
The outcry in parliament this week came in response to The Wall Street Journal’s May 15 article that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight, offering them $500 a month, Iranian residency and other incentives.
In a discussion in the legislature on Sunday, parliament speaker Fazel Hadi Mosleymyar said: “This is really a sad event. Afghanistan’s government has to find a solution. They take advantage of their [refugees’] poverty and send them to Syria to die.”
Afghanistan has asked its embassy in Iran to investigate. The parliament plans to summon the minister of refugees, the foreign minister and a United Nations refugee agency representative to answer questions, said Jamahir Anwari, the minister for refugees.
Mr. Anwari said he has already appeared before one parliament committee since the story came out.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said in a news conference on Wednesday that the Journal’s article was “baseless” and accused the newspaper of instigating tension between Afghanistan and Iran.
“The defeat of warmongers in Syria has forced them to spread lies and provoke the people in our neighboring country Afghanistan,” she said, according to Iranian media.
Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission, said last week that allegations Iran is sending Afghan refugees to Syria as fighters are unfounded.
An IRGC member, a Western official in Iran, and the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli, a religious leader for the Afghan community in the Iranian holy city of Qom, confirmed the details of the recruitment campaign to the Journal.
A few days later, Mr. Kabuli’s office recanted the statement.
“The news published by BBC…citing Western newspapers saying that the office manager of Ayatollah Kabuli confirmed Afghan refugees are dispatched to Syria by the Revolutionary Guards, I deny,” Mr. Kabuli’s statement said.
His office didn’t return a call on Wednesday requesting further comment.
In the past, Iran’s intelligence apparatus has pressured and threatened prominent clerics in Qom who speak up against the regime, according to the offices of clerics who have been targeted. In unrest following the disputed 2009 presidential election, security forces raided the prominent clerics and threatened to freeze their office bank accounts because they criticized the government’s crackdown on the opposition, they said.
Afghan media reports have cited a lawmaker and a security official corroborating reports that Afghans are being recruited and paid by Iran to fight in Syria.
The Afghan news website Payam Rooz quoted Afghan lawmaker Nahid Ahmadi Farid as saying on Saturday: “There are documents that show Iran is sending Afghans to fight in Syria without citing their Afghan nationality.”
The Afghan newspaper 8 am on Monday quoted an Afghan security official confirming Afghans are being sent by Iran to fight in Syria. The official said about five months ago, Afghan officials learned that four Afghan fighters were captured by the opposition in Syria. Investigations revealed that the Afghans were being recruited and dispatched to Syria in exchange for money, the official said.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, Janan Moussa Zai, told Afghan media in April 2013 that his government had received reports about Afghan refugees in Iran being dispatched to fight in Syria.
Stories about funerals for Afghan refugees killed in the Syrian civil war have also been popping up in Iranian media and blogs dedicated to the issues of refugee community. Details of Afghans fighting and dying in Syria were also published on two blogs created by Afghan youth living in Iran.
Public funerals of Afghan refugees killed in Syria are being held nearly every week in cities across Iran, covered, in print and photo by Iranian media outlets affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards and attended by Guards commanders and religious representatives of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
There are nearly four million Afghan refugees and migrant works currently living in Iran, with more than 800,000 of them registered with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR
It is unclear how Afghan refugees, the majority of whom don’t have passports or other travel documents, make their way from Iran to Syria.
Two Iranian media outlets affiliated with Revolutionary Guard, Fars News Agency and Tasnim, have reported that an all-Afghan battalion called Fatemiyoun” is fighting in Syria to protect Shiite shrines. Fars reported that Afghan refugee fighters were killed elsewhere.
In Afghanistan, where a U.S.-led war has been going on for more than a decade, lawmakers said Syria’s war does not concern nor benefit Afghanistan. They warned their countrymen against getting involved and fighting for either side.
Afghans don’t traditionally have close political or cultural links to the Arab world, nor do they share a language. Iran and Afghanistan, in contrast, share common language, culture and the Shiite Islam faith with the Hazara ethnic group.