Afghan youth risk perilous journeys for work abroad

Afghanistan's fragile economy is failing to provide jobs for its youth, who are leaving the country in search of employment

Afghan youth risk perilous journeys for work abroad

World Bulletin/News Desk

The first snow has begun to fall in Maimanna, the capital of northern Afghanistan's Faryab province. Another harsh winter is expected to bring more difficulties for the province's hard-up families. 

"Winter is the death of poor people," according to an old Afghan proverb. Some feel this is especially true with the upcoming withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and the likely tapering of aid injected into country. 

It means that for the country's many jobless youth, the prospects of employment will become even more distant. 

The fear of poverty, heightened by unemployment and economic uncertainty, has already compelled hundreds of young Afghans to leave their villages for opportunities abroad, despite risks including imprisonment and drowning on overcrowded smugglers' boats. 

Sediqa, a 43-year old housewife from the Taliban-controlled village of Mirshadi, goes door-to-door in Maimanna city, asking relatives to help her raise the $12,000 needed to free her 22-year old son Aman. After laboring in Iran he was caught crossing the border with Turkey, with his captors demanding the ransom. 

“He was working in Iran for the past couple of years. Although it was a difficult job, he could earn enough. He left Iran for a better life in Turkey but trapped in hands of cruel people,” says a distraught Sediqa, whose cracked hands and sun-burnt face makes her appear older than her age. 

“As I am told, he was detained by Kurdish people and they have alleged my son and others with him that they were heading to join ISIS. So they have asked for $12,000 [each] to free them,” she says, adding that eight other young Afghans were caught along with her son. 

More than a decade of foreign troops on Afghan soil has meant an economic and development framework built around them. Their withdrawal is expected to mean fewer jobs for Afghans, forcing many skilled workers to leave the country in search of work. 

Maryam Ghyasi, whose company runs a recruitment website, says some jobs previously affiliated to the foreigners in Afghanistan have dwindled, while the number of jobseekers has increased in the past two months. 

“Some job positions like interpretation, driving, body guarding and other jobs related to foreigner`s activity in Afghanistan have disappeared or at least reduced,” Ghyasi says. 

Hamidullah, 37, is one of those hoping to go abroad. Every day he joins groups of shabbily dressed workers, found leaning on their instruments in parts of the Afghan capital Kabul as they wait, from dawn to dusk, for employers to offer them work. 

“I have been looking for job in my hometown, northern Samangan province, in the past several months but failed to be hired. Day-by-day my life condition was draining my energy," says Hamidullah. "Despite my wife's insistence to change my decision, I had to sell my cow and donkey to buy food for my children."

Going to Kabul has not eased his struggle because employers prefer heavily built workers over those with his slight frame, he adds with a rueful smile.

“The day I can afford the transportation fee, understanding the real dangers on my way, I am ready to risk my life to go to Iran or Turkey," he says. Failing that, he says he would have to join the Taliban in order to survive. 

Since the end of the previous Taliban regime in 2001, almost 6 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, placing a heavy burden on a fragile government. While security remains an enduring challenge for Afghanistan, so is providing housing and job opportunities. And while migrants have returned, tens of thousands of Afghan youth have left. 

An outward population flow has not been unusual for Afghans in recent decades, though the migration -- usually across borders into Pakistan and Iran -- had been under different circumstances. The International Fund for Agriculture Development reported in 2012 that more than 2 million Afghans were working abroad and that their inwards remittance accounted for 16 percent of the country's economic output. 

During his inauguration speech in September, new President Ashraf Ghani's admitted "we don’t have permanent solution for unemployment in Afghanistan, but a short-term solution is sending the labours to the Gulf States.” He followed that up during his first foreign visit, to Saudi Arabia, by asking for legal status to be given to 300,000 Afghan laborers working there. 

According to an International Labour Organization report published in 2013, Afghanistan's labour force grows by more than 400,000 each year, adding to the country's difficulty in serving the jobless and underemployed. 

"Sending labors to Gulf States and other countries like Turkey is a useful answer to unemployment, but needs skilled labors, which we are lacking,” says Sayed Massoud, an economics professor at Kabul University.

“We have numerous operating factories in Afghanistan. Despite security challenges and security problems 1,900 out of 3,700 factories are still running in Afghanistan. Why don’t we invest on mid- and long-term solutions inside our country?” he says.

The government has tried to boost opportunities for its population with vocational training courses for unskilled laborers. According to Sayed Hamidullah Saadat, head of policy and planning at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, they have 42 training centers throughout the country and over 70,000 labours have learned skills that can be used abroad. 

“Agreements between Afghan government and some Gulf States have been signed," says Saadat. "Soon we will witness flow of Afghan laborers to those countries.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Kasım 2014, 16:03