The plight of Kurdish porters in the Western border regions of Iran has been highlighted once more by human rights activists with more avalanche fatalities.
Red Crescent officials explain that the porters’ only means of making a living is through carrying commercial goods on their backs through the border which is a rough terrain often hit by avalanches in the winter.
Rights activists maintain that the government is responsible for the lives these porters who are forced to take on the hazardous occupation due to chronic poverty in these regions.
Western Azerbaijan Red Crescent officials report that three porters were caught in a deadly avalanche which claimed the life of one in the last week of January.
Omid Khezrian, 19, was killed when an avalanche hit the three porters in the Pirzin Heights, in the Iran-Iraq border regions on the night of January 30.
Rescue workers reached the treacherous region around five am the following day and rescued two of the porters The rescued porters have been treated for severe frost injuries and reported to be in good health.
Last week 16 Kurdish porters in Sardasht region were caught in another deadly avalanche which claimed the lives of four. Another two of those porters remain hospitalized.
Rasoul Khezri an MP from Sardasht- Piranshahr told ISNA: “I have been talking to the head of judiciary to secure some form of life insurance payment to the families of the dead porters.” He adds however nothing will resolve the problem of region other than adequate job creation.
Reports indicate that high level of corruption at the level of the provincial government has further exacerbated the dismal job market in the region which forces the citizens to submit to such hazardous jobs such as carrying heavy loads in treacherous terrain on their backs.
In Sardasht- Piranshahr region between 8 to 10 thousand households make their living by working as porters.
Iranian MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi reacted to the recent news about the death of porters saying the very existence of an occupation as that of the porter reveals that the “Islamic Republic has not fulfilled its oath to the people to eliminate undue discrimination and provide equal opportunities for all” as stipulated in the constitution.
Meanwhile provincial heads dismiss sympathy for the dead porters saying the individuals killed in the recent avalanches were not actual porters but rather individuals involved in smuggling.
Head of Sardasht told ILNA that the province issues official passes for porters engaged in this occupation and they can pass through legal routes without any hazards to their lives. He insisted that the porters killed were not legally engaged in this occupation.
Activists who have consistently spoken out against the treatment of porters and their dire lives forcing them into such a hazardous activity, insist that being a porter means immediate danger of death from being shot at, falling from mountainous heights, being buried under avalanches, severe back injuries and many more dangers; therefore, it cannot be considered as a legitimate form of occupation promoted by the government.
Shahed Alavi, US based human rights activist and journalist maintains that allowing poverty stricken regions to submit to such hazardous forms of making a living is a form of slavery. He adds that identifying the content of the goods they carry may make it formal in the bureaucratic machinery but it cannot be a basis for legitimizing such a inhumane treatment of the country’s citizens.
The Kurdish regions of Iran have been some of the most poverty stricken areas of the country with little investment from the central government in infrastructure and job creation. Activists have accused the government of discriminating against and neglecting the peripheral regions of the country and especially regions with a high concentration of its ethnic minorities.