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Iran's War On Drugs Creates A 'Village Of Widows' In Afghanistan

Afghanistan Herat village
Afghanistan Herat village
HERAT, Iran's incessant war on drugs has created a 'village of widows' in neighboring Afghanistan.

Mariam, an Afghan widow, who goes by one name only, resents the day she encouraged her husband to go into affluent Iran to look for work two years ago.

"He went to find a job and make a living for us, but he never returned," she says. "I don’t know whether he was hanged, killed or imprisoned in Iran."

Mariam, 35, says it is not easy to look after her three daughters. She lives in a crumbling mud house and is now dependent on relatives and weaves carpets to eke out a living for her family.

Economic prospects in her desert village, Mir Ali, close to Iran's border in the western Afghan province of Herat, are extremely limited.

During the past two decades, poverty prompted Mir Ali's men to look for work in Iran. But most never return. They have either been killed or imprisoned for drug smuggling by Iranian authorities. Most of the Mir Ali's current 250 residents are women and children.

This, Mariam says, has led to Mir Ali being dubbed 'the village of widows' in Herat. She says that more than 30 women in her village have lost their husbands and an entire generation is now growing up without their fathers.

Fatima, 50, is another widow whose husband and two sons were hanged in Iran.

"They were all killed on the pretext of being involved in drug-smuggling," she says.

Fatima is now looking after her two teenage sons. Her biggest worry, like most mothers in Mir Ali, is to hope that their children will not be forced to seek livelihoods in Iran.

Today, few young men are seen on the narrow, dusty streets of Mir Ali. Villagers tell RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that extreme poverty has pushed many young men to work for powerful drug lords who use them as human carriers to smuggle drugs across the border into Iran.

It is, however, unclear if any of the men from Mir Ali were executed after a legal process or they were summarily executed as is often alleged in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say nearly 5000 Afghans are currently imprisoned in Iran. A majority of them are on on death row on drug-related charges.
According to global human rights watchdogs, executions of Afghan prisoners on charges of drug-smuggling or use are common in Iran. Human Rights Watch says Afghans are exceptionally vulnerable to unjust prosecution and punishment by Iranian courts.

Afghanistan -- a woman who lost her 20 years old son in a suicide attack in Herat province attended rug sewing course, 21 Nov 2013
Afghanistan -- a woman who lost her 20 years old son in a suicide attack in Herat province attended rug sewing course, 21 Nov 2013

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission documented the execution of 12 Afghan prisoners in Iran in June. The commission has expressed its dissatisfaction with the way Afghan prisoners are treated in Iran. It says Afghans poisoners often do not even have access to lawyers, who can guide Afghan prisoners in navigating Iranian courts.

In recent years Afghans have protested alleged Iranian atrocities against their compatriots. Kabul has also raised the issue of executions of Afghans with Tehran. But locals in Herat and neighboring Afghan provinces on Iranian border still regularly receive the corpses of Afghan prisoners executed in Iran.

Such tragedies are not expected to end anytime soon. Since early 1990s an unstable Afghanistan has emerged as the leading producer of opium in the world while addiction rates in Iran have skyrocketed. The country now has the world's highest incidence of opium abuse.

Back in the 'village of widows', Mariam and Fatima's immediate challenge is to survive through the harsh winter.

Mariam says her family goes to bed hungry most evenings. "There is no work and no food for us. If the government does not help us we will all die soon," she says.