Afghan refugees in Iran: Go back home

IN A wealthy neighbourhood in Tehran, Iran’s capital, a 12-year-old boy in a tatty red shell-suit patrols neat cul-de-sacs in search of bins. Like thousands of illegal Afghan refugees in Iran, he rummages daily from dusk till dawn for plastic to sell. “If Iran didn’t exist, neither would I,” says Zalmai, dropping a big sack. “I don’t want to go back.” He left his parents in Herat, in west Afghanistan, three years ago and has never been to school. He makes 150,000 rials a day ($4.20) from selling plastic.Thirty years of war in Afghanistan have left Iran with perhaps the largest urban refugee population in the world. More than 1m Afghans are registered as refugees in the Islamic Republic, which is also home to another 1.5m-plus illegal Afghan migrants. But a mixture of Iran’s worsening economic malaise and its government’s policies has prompted an exodus of Afghans back home or westward to Turkey and Greece. Some 200,000 of them are reckoned to have gone back in the past seven months; 5.7m—15% of Afghanistan’s population—have returned in the past ten years, most of them during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that began in 2005.Afghan migration to Iran is as old as the Islamic Republic. During the Soviet invasion of 1979, hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled to Iran, though it was itself in the throes of revolution. For a decade they were ignored by the government,…

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