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Afghans in Iran – caught between a rock and hard place

10 June 20160 comments

It has taken the brutal rape and murder of six-year-old Afghan girl in Iran to highlight the ongoing and systematic oppression of refugee minorities there.

Setayesh Ghoreishi

Setayesh Ghoreishi

Little Setayesh Ghoreishi was allegedly attacked last month by her teenage Iranian neighbor Amir Hossein in the Tehran suburb of Varamin.

Fury exploded when the crime went unreported in Iranian media, prompting an outpouring of solidarity and advocacy online.

“Afghans were sick and tired of their own relative silence and the Iranian government’s systematic oppression against them over the past 30 years,” Qudratullah Rajavi, an Afghan migrant and civil rights activist based in Kabul, told the regional media.

Mr Rajavi launched a Facebook page I Am Setayesh with hashtags #JusticeForSetayesh and #IAmSetayesh.

The page has received more than 10,000 ‘likes’ since its creation on April 15.

“The winning factor was a bombardment of comments on the official Facebook page of UNICEF, asking the international organization to seriously follow up on the case, as we feared that Setayesh may soon be forgotten like other similar cases in the past,” Mr Rajavi said.

The Ghoreishi family has received huge support from both Afghans and Iranians – both in public and on social media.

Iranian journalist and women rights activist Jila Baniyaghoob joined a candlelight vigil in front of the Afghanistan Embassy in Tehran.

Since the Soviet invasion in 1979 and over the decades of ensuing war in their country, Afghans fleeing conflict and violence have taken refuge in neighbouring Iran.

Some estimates put their number in Iran as high a three million. The Islamic Republic says it has acted responsibly in taking in one of the largest influxes of refugees in the world.

But many laws discriminate against Afghans. There are arbitrary limits on marriage rights, access to education, employment and restrictions on freedom of movement.

Since 2002, there have been numerous impositions of ‘non-go areas’ for Afghans in Iran.

In 2012, Afghans were banned from celebrating the last day of the Iranian New Year — Nowruz, which is known as “Sizdeh Bedar”.

According to a senior police official, a number of Afghans had caused trouble and the ban was put in place to ensure the safety and security of Iranians.

Some Iranians accuse Afghans of spreading crime and drugs in Iran. As in other places around the world, Afghans are blamed for stealing jobs even though they are often low-wage jobs in unbearable conditions that Iranian workers avoid.

However, many Afghans in Iran aren’t just the stereotypical laborer. They are intellectuals, poets, writers and even inventors, Mr Rajavi said.

Many Iranians have spoken out against discrimination and support the plight of Afghans.

Since Setayesh’s story came to light, Afghan civil society and the country’s lower house of parliament called on Iran to prosecute the teenage boy responsible for her murder.

Many observers hope the death of Setayesh will become a signpost on a path to reform in Iran and the adopting of more tolerant policies.