Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The other war in Afghanistan

There is another war going on in Afghanistan - one which is being ignored by the media - and that is the class war .

The Safi fur and wool factory, in Herat city, western Afghanistan, has more than 350 female and 300 male workers who earn only 300 Afghanis (US$6) for their 48-hour, six-day week. The factory produces coats, jackets, hats and other garments for the European and North American markets. There are more than 1,500 women working in four such factories in Herat city. Workers have to separate fur from goats’ hair and weave sheep’s wool without protective gloves or masks.

Ahmad Zia Rahmani, a lung and chest diseases specialist at the Herat city hospital, says workers in fur and wool factories are vulnerable to virulent microbes, which harm the respiratory system and cause chest infections. “Sheep’s wool and goats’ hair usually contain harmful bacteria which can easily be transferred to a human via close contact and inhalation,” Rahmani said. Mothers who regularly breastfeed their babies and consume food at the factory can also transfer dangerous microbes to their children if they do not wash their hands with antibacterial soap, Rahmani added.

Jamila has worked in the factory for more than a year and recently experienced an unrelenting pain in her chest. “First, I was coughing and now I feel a terrible pain in my chest,” the 32-year-old said. “Doctors and medicine are expensive,” she said.

In the past 12 months, seven women workers of the wool and fur factories in Herat have died due to respiratory diseases and chest infections.

According to Afghanistan’s labour law, public and private employers should provide medical insurance to employees who work in hazardous environments. However, there are too many hurdles - including poor law enforcement institutions, lack of awareness about women's rights and conservative traditions - which constrict the law on paper with weak or no practical power. Almost all workers in factories in Herat province have no written contract with their employers, particularly in the private sector. Workers and employers have only verbal agreements, which do not cover medical and hazard insurance.


Iran is deporting thousands of Afghans . Most deportees are young, single men who migrated to Iran mostly in search of employment and economic opportunities, aid agencies say. Provincial officials, however, are concerned that hundreds of women, children and elderly people have also been evicted.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says there are more than 900,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran. However, the large numbers of Afghans who do not have refugee status and are considered illegal are not protected by UNHCR. Since April, some 200,000 Afghans living in Iran illegally have been deported .

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