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Afghan adolescents in search for an income

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© UNICEF Afghanistan/2019/Awad

The European Union protects unaccompanied adolescents on the move

Monica Awad

Herat, Afghanistan, 03 February 2018 - For 16-year old Yasser, life has become unbearable in his hometown Takhar. Living in a rural area of Herat, west of Afghanistan, adolescents like Yasser have limited opportunities for education and employment.

“My father is old and cannot work,” says Yasser with sadness. “I have no other choice but to find work to feed my family.”

Yasser comes from a family of 12. His father is no longer able to feed the family, pushing Yasser to look for employment.

According to the World Bank, nearly 4 out of 10 people are living in poverty in Afghanistan. People living in rural areas are most impacted. Poverty rate has increased by 14 per cent in two years, reaching 44 per cent due to their limited access to services and employment opportunities, when compared to their peers residing in urban areas. And for young people like Yasser, the situation is even worse. One out of two of the unemployed are young people aged 14-24.

“I dropped out of school at the age of 13, after completing Grade 5,” says Yasser. “I could no longer bear our family’s situation, and I was desperately looking for a job.”

Like thousands of Afghan refugees who migrate to Iran, Yasser was hopeful in finding better employment opportunities in the neighbouring country.

“I managed to borrow the fees for the smugglers to take me into Iran,” says Yasser. “I thought this is my lifetime opportunity.”

On average, smugglers charge between $600-800 to smuggle adolescents and young people to the Iranian border. They are taken in groups of 10 or more, moving under extreme harsh conditions.

“The trip to Iran was long and very difficult,” says Yasser. “But I was ready to tolerate anything to help my family.”

In search for better opportunities

‘When I arrived in Iran, it took me a while till I found a job,” says Yasser. “I was lucky since I had cousins there who tried to help me out.”

Yasser was among the lucky Afghan adolescents who was able to find a job in agriculture for a meagre wage of $100 per month. He was working under harsh conditions and for long hours. Yet, he was satisfied thinking that he can be of better help to his family.

“Despite all the problems I faced, I was happy to earn some money that can help my family,” says Yasser.

Yet, Yasser’s happiness did not last long. Eighteen months later, Yasser was caught by the police, and was deported back to Afghanistan.

At that time, Yasser was not able to save money, since his monthly earnings barely covered his expenses.

As he was deported, as soon as he arrived at the border and saw the Afghan flag, Yasser became emotional and tears came into his eyes.

“I was so happy to see the Afghan flag,” recalls Yasser. “As soon as I got off the bus, I knelt down kissing the ground of my homeland.”

At the borders, UNICEF partners screens deportees, identifying unaccompanied minors. Being a minor, Yasser was taken care off by social workers, and then transferred to a transit centre.

With funding from the European Union, and with partners, UNICEF established a system to protect children on the move.

At the transit centre, children receive the care and support they need. They are provided with temporary shelter, food, psychosocial counseling, and recreational and educational activities. The centre’s team works diligently in trying to trace the child’s family.

“We provide all the services that children need,” says Ali Ahmad, Project Manager, Transit Centre. “The main issue is to try and reunite children with their families.”

On average, children remain few days at the transit centre, until they are reunited with family.

“I am so happy now that they traced my family,” says Yasser. “Now, I can’t wait to go back home and hold my mom tight in my arms.”