The Guardian reports: Mohammad, 14, is an Afghan immigrant who recently joined the flow of refugees arriving in the holding centre for unaccompanied minors on the Greek island of Lesvos.
Leaving his parents behind in Iran, he crossed the Aegean Sea on an overcrowded rubber dinghy with 38 other passengers. Mohammad describes the nighttime crossing as the scariest moment in his life. But he would not allow himself to cry. Unlike the other children on the boat, his parents were not there to comfort him. He “needed to be brave” and “be a man,” he says. His family’s decision to send their eldest son on an uncertain journey to Europe was a difficult one – but it was the most promising option compared to returning to his homeland or staying in Iran.
Afghans account for the largest proportion of unaccompanied minors arriving in Lesvos. Over one-third of the 2,248 minors that passed through Lesvos last year hail from Afghanistan, according the Greek NGO Metadrasi.
Most Afghans fleeing war and economic strife in their homeland have spent time in Iran, which has hosted the second-largest population of Afghan refugees for over 30 years. But worsening living conditions in Iran are forcing young migrants like Mohammad to leave even their temporary homeland in search of yet another one.
An estimated 2.3-3 million Afghans now live inside Iran, of whom 800,000 are children. The first wave of Afghan refugees arrived in Iran following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent civil war. They had access to public education and opportunities to work. Some 97% of Afghans lived outside refugee camps, and were integrated into urban communities.
Since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, Iran began instituting increasingly restrictive laws on Afghans, including bureaucratic hurdles, limitations on movement, deportation of minors and separation of families, and reduced access to education. [Continue reading…]