The jobless Afghans 'paid by Iran' to fight for Assad

By Mark Lobel
BBC News, Kabul

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Image caption, Mothers in Afghanistan say they do not know if their sons are dead or alive

Among the many images of suffering that have emerged from the conflict in Syria are videos that appear to show young Afghan men, bruised and bloodied and held prisoner by anti-government rebels.

The fighters say they were paid by the Iranian government to fight for Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, and promised passports and jobs if they survive.

The videos cannot be verified by the BBC but there is evidence that young, jobless Afghans, mostly from the minority Hazara community, are fleeing the country for a better life and ending up as pawns in Syria's bloody civil war.

Looking for a better life

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, one 22-year old among a group of jobless men tells me what happened to him in Iran.

"They gathered lots of us together with the promise of jobs and ID cards. But once we got there we were offered something different - to go and fight in Syria. I refused," he said.

But many Afghans find the offer too difficult to resist. I meet two Hazara women whose loved ones have left for Syria. They are too afraid to be named, fearful of reprisals, but they want to share their stories as a warning to others.

Image caption, "He went to make money and make our lives better," one woman says of her husband

One quietly spoken, nervous mother, visibly upset beneath her blue burkha, tells us what happened to her husband.

"He was there for two years when we were told he'd been killed. He was buried in Iran. He went to make money and make our lives better but he didn't consult me," she said.

"It has affected my children a lot. They don't have a future. I don't know what to tell them," she adds.

Driven out of town

Another mother hasn't heard from her 22-year-old son for eight months.

"What can we do?" she says, with tears running down her face. "We don't even have two dollars to put together to find him. I know his friends were killed but I don't know about him. We have no choice but to wait. Every second is hard."

Image caption, Buses leave Kabul every day carrying men looking for a better life

She says young boys continue to be tempted to fight.

"Many boys are going right now. They are jobless and told they will be given money and a house. Even if they die they think their families will have a comfortable life."

Iran has not officially commented on claims that it is paying Afghan men to fight, but Iranian state media has reported on Shia Afghans "voluntarily" going to Syria.

At a packed bus station in Kabul, a coach-load of young Afghan men head off to Iran, a daily occurrence.

They say they have been driven out of town by a struggling economy. Some could end up fighting in Syria's bitter conflict.

Most Afghans just seek stability and prosperity, and yet families here are now being affected by instability abroad.

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