Throughout these years, the humanity of Afghan people has been stripped away, and a systematic apartheid against Afghans has been in progress. This dehumanization has been practiced for years by Iranian radio and television, as well as by a portion of the people on a daily basis.
Racism refers to beliefs and ideologies that consider one social group, nationality, or race as superior or inferior to others. Such beliefs lead to racial discrimination, prejudice, and unfair and exclusionary behaviors towards individuals, hindering equality, justice, and the acceptance of social group diversity. Racism is not just a personal or individual issue; it can manifest structurally and institutionally. This means it can appear in a more widespread and systematic form, infiltrating educational, health, judicial, and other institutions.
The existence of a totalitarian power structure in government decision-making, which reproduces extreme nationalist and chauvinist policies, ultimately leads to the creation of a culture of racism. This system turns media and education into tools for executing a terrifying propaganda, involving the masses as accomplices through a culture already established by the system. In such conditions, laws, norms, and policies are formed in society that systematically promote discrimination and inequality against a specific social group or nationality in a ready-made environment.
Lesser access of “othered” groups, due to nationality, belief, religion, or different representation from the prevailing norms of society, to healthcare, education, economy, being forced to live in areas with inadequate social welfare, judicial inequalities, exposure to violence, fewer job opportunities, and even lack of voting rights are examples of dominant structural racism.
Regarding examples of discrimination and oppression against Afghans, an Afghan citizen residing in Iran under the pseudonym Javid says:
“It’s better to start from the beginning and see how Afghans live in Iran. The migration of Afghans to Iran on a larger scale began with the start of the Islamic Republic’s regime. Initially, there were no codified laws for Afghan refugees fleeing the war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Afghan refugees would go to the foreign nationals’ office and receive a green residency card. This green card was highly valued at that time. Initially, Afghan migrants were dear to the people of Iran. They also received sugar, oil, and other ration coupons like the rest of the Iranian people. However, there were still restrictions on movement and inter-city travel for refugees. They had to go to the local governor’s office to get a travel permit, for example, from Mashhad to Tehran. This permit was issued for a duration of 20 days and was invalid after this period. According to the old-timers, people’s behavior towards Afghans was good at that time. But gradually, the wheel turned, and the green cards were taken from the refugees, and census cards were given to them. Gradually, restricted areas were created for Afghans, and they were allowed to reside in 5 or 6 provinces of Iran and always had to get a travel permit even for moving between these provinces. Getting a travel permit was not easy and was not available to everyone. Because no specific laws were initially established for refugees, Afghan refugees always remained refugees and will remain so, and they can never obtain a national ID. For example, if one million Afghans entered Iran in the early years of the Islamic Republic, after fifty years, this one million and their families are still refugees, with no change in their refugee status.”
The theoretical development of racial beliefs and othering, when combined with imperialism and the desire to dominate lands and nations, leads to a product called fascism. Fascism and racism are political means for exercising control and establishing desired ideologies and governance. Fascism is authoritarian and promotes extreme nationalism at any cost, using nationalism to prevail over individual interests; this endangers people’s welfare to achieve necessary social goals. Instead of eliminating existing social class structures, it works with them. Professor Robert Paxton, in his book “The Anatomy of Fascism,” writes, “It’s about internal cleansing and external expansion. This can justify the use of violence for societal cleansing of minorities and opponents.”
Haniyeh, another Afghan citizen born in Iran, lists some of the many racist discriminations against Afghan migrants in Iran:
- They do not have the right to apply for Iranian citizenship.
- Houses and lands cannot be registered in the name of Afghans and it is prohibited.
- SIM cards, telephones, vehicles (cars, motorcycles, etc.) cannot be registered in the name of Afghans.
- Afghans are only allowed to work in jobs listed by the government. Low-level jobs such as shepherding, working in slaughterhouses, poultry farming, animal husbandry, agriculture, construction, digging wells, cleaning sheep and cow intestines, charcoal and brick kilns, etc., and that too without insurance and very low wages. There is no protective labor law for Afghans.
- Afghans are not allowed to work in any government jobs.
- Afghans only have permission to live in specific provinces and cities.
- No free movement between cities.
- Limitations in purchases using bank cards; Afghan bank cards have a money transfer limit. For each purchase, only up to 10 million tomans can be transferred. For example, if they want to buy a car worth one billion, they have to swipe the card thousands of times. Also, they are not allowed to open accounts in all banks.
- Until a few years ago, Afghans were not allowed to take the driving license exam. But for a few years now, they have been able to get a license in a limited way and at a high cost.
- Buying many things like baby formula is contingent on having a national ID card and national number, which Afghans cannot do in many places due to not having them, and are deprived of some important and vital goods.
- Many Afghan children are left out of education every year because they are not allowed to study. There is no precise law regarding the education of Afghan children, and every year children must wait for a directive to see if they are allowed to enroll or not, and this directive always comes after the start of the academic year; Afghan children face every September with the worry of whether they can go to school or not.
Over all these years, Afghan humanity has been dehumanized, and a systematic apartheid against Afghans has persisted. This dehumanization has been practiced daily for years by Iranian radio and television and also by the people. Giving negative, low, and bad roles in movies, false and frightening news in newspapers and television, etc., has gradually created a terrible and unrealistic image of the Afghan person in Iranian society. Over all these years, Afghans have been portrayed as a fourth and fifth-class human, a terrifying and second-rate creature.
The continuous demonization and enemy-making are part of the Islamic Republic’s rhetoric for survival and creating a rift among social groups. The structured propaganda of hate-spreading, which has managed to gain public complicity over the years, has planted the discourse of “conflict” against Afghan citizens in deep layers of society, resulting in news of oppression and violence against them, such as the kidnapping of an Afghan day laborer or the attack on an Afghan family’s home or the expulsion of Sahra Rezaei, an Afghan student who participated in last year’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in response to the killing of Jina Mahsa Amini, being marginalized and eliminated, failing to evoke societal empathy and pursuit of their basic human rights, and allowing the government to easily use them as a shield in committing its crimes, attributing political murders and crimes such as the Shah Cheragh attack and the slaughter of Dariush Mehrjui and Vahideh Mohammadifar to Afghan refugees in Iran can also be regarded as examples of strategic exploitation and demonization of these people.
Javid explains the impact of governmental propaganda and the construction of othering by the Iranian government on people’s behavior as follows:
“Throughout these years, the Iranian government has presented a harsh image the Afghan person that shows them as lesser beings. The Afghan person has been treated as the most convenient subject and has always been used as fuel. From recruiting Afghans with promises and pledges for the Syrian war to using the Afghan person to distort public opinion. Wherever the Iranian government officials have been negligent and wanted to blame someone, they used the Afghan person. Crimes and atrocities were attributed to the Afghan person. The poverty and dire economic situation of Iran were blamed on Afghans. Terrorist attacks and bombings were blamed on Afghans and used as cheap fuel to ignite or distort public opinion. The Islamic Republic’s governmental propaganda has played a primary and long-term role in dehumanizing migrants over the past few decades and has been largely successful. As we have seen these days, just a few fake news stories can divert public opinion towards Afghan migrants.”
Supporting refugees is supporting the natural right of migration and asylum, and it does not mean superiority, but rather means confronting stigmatization and othering.
The Afghan +LGBTIQA community also lives secretive lives in the most difficult and challenging conditions, with fear and anxiety from family, society, and the terrorist group Taliban, both in Iran and Afghanistan. One of these individuals, under the pseudonym Mirwais, talks about his experience in urban and public spaces in Iran, “An Afghan queer person is not allowed to exist at all. He is hidden in the urban and social space of Iran.”