Iran sending thousands of Afghans to fight in Syria: HRW

New York, Jan 29: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has recruited thousands of undocumented Afghans living there to fight in Syria since at least November 2013, Human Rights Watch said today.

According to some reports, Iranian authorities coerced them. Iran has urged the Afghans to defend Shia sacred sites and offered financial incentives and legal residence in Iran to encourage them to join pro-Syrian government militias, the Human Rights Watch said in a press release.

Human Rights Watch in late 2015 interviewed more than two dozen Afghans who had lived in Iran about recruitment by Iranian officials of Afghans to fight in Syria.

One 17-year-old said he had been forced to fight without being given the opportunity to refuse. Others said they had volunteered to fight in Syria in Iranian-organized militias, either out of religious conviction or to regularize their residence status in Iran.

“Iran has not just offered Afghan refugees and migrants incentives to fight in Syria, but several said they were threatened with deportation back to Afghanistan unless they did,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.

Funerals for Afghan fighters killed in Syria are frequently held in Iran, sometimes attended by Iranian officials. While Iran officially claims that thousands of Afghans living in Iran have volunteered to join the militias, their vulnerable legal position in Iran and the fear of deportation may contribute to their decision, making it less than voluntary.

Many said that the threat of arrest and forced conscription in Iran was an important contributing factor in their decision to leave Iran.

Other Afghans told Human Rights Watch that they had been detained by Iranian authorities and given the choice between deportation and fighting in Syria, and had chosen deportation.

Two Afghan boys, a 16-year-old and the 17-year-old, said they had fought in Syria, and another Afghan, Alireza Muhammad, who underwent military training but did not go to fight in Syria, said that he personally knew Afghan boys as young as 12 fighting in Syria in Iranian-organized groups, and that a 12-year-old boy he knew had been killed in the fighting.

International law applicable in Syria prohibits both government forces and non-state armed groups from forcibly recruiting children under 18 or using them in hostilities. (ANI)

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