Twenty one adolescents and children working as porters, carrying goods on their backs across the Iran-Iraq border have died in 2019 from soldiers’ bullets or cold weather, a human rights group has said.
The porters taking the dangers journey to eke out a living are called “kolbar” in local Kurdish language. Seven of these young kolbars were shot by the Islamic Republic’s border guards and one was injured in 2019, the Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw disclosed on Saturday, December 21.
The porters are frequently harassed by the Iranian guards patrolling the borders and many have been killed.
The kolbars are semi-legal porters who carry merchandise on their backs, across the mountains from the autonomous Kurdistan Region in Northern Iraq to Iran’s Kurdistan province.
The practice developed as small-scale, cross-border transport of goods to evade import-export restrictions and customs duties, but after decades it is part of the local life and economy. Some have coined the term "human mules" for the kolbars.
Villagers on the border had been doing this work illegally for years. In mid-2016, Iranian authorities announced they would issue special licenses to allow the transport of goods on foot without the risk of being stopped by border guards.
Only heads of families, who have finished their military service and live within fifteen kilometers (9.321 miles) of the border, qualify for the special license to transport goods legally.
Meanwhile, Hengaw reports that fourteen kolbars have died of frostbite in the past twelve months.
The tragic death of underage kolbar brothers, fourteen-year-old Farhad Khosravi, and seventeen-year-old Azad Khosravi, has been widely reflected in Iranian news outlets and social media in recent days.
On Tuesday December 17, Farhad along with some other Porters lost their way due to a heavy snow storm. In the same day, local people along with another kolbar discovered the frozen body of Farhad's seventeen-year-old brother, Azad Khosravi.
Based on reports received by Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, after four days of searches for Farhad, his corpse was finally found by local volunteers on Friday December 20,2019.
Moreover, during the past twelve months, another fourteen kolbars have died of frostbite in Kurdistan border areas.
The Islamic Republic authorities have presented a plethora of plans in the past years, promising to address the hardship of kolbars (pronounced koolbars in Persian), but none of the official plans have been implemented, so far.
The state-run Mehr news agency reported on December 21 that consecutive governments in the Islamic Republic have failed to fulfill their promises to the kolbars.
"The necessary budget allocated to helping kolbars has already been endorsed, but, unfortunately some of the executive departments are sluggish," the chairman of anti-contraband and currency smuggling headquarters in Iranian province of Kurdistan, Ali Khodawisi, said, adding, "These departments claim that they are preparing themselves to implement government's plan in a more comprehensive way."
In July 2018, President Rouhani's administration passed a resolution to offer tax breaks and other benefits to the licensed kolbars, but their situation has not changed much as they face the danger of being shot by border guards who regard many kolbars as smugglers.