Human Rights

Human Rights Watch: Iran Recruiting Afghan Child Soldiers to Defend Assad in Syria

Iran has recruited Afghan children to fight in Syria, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The report confirmed that at least eight soldiers—some as young as 14—have died fighting in Syria in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad by Iran.

The soldiers were recruited from Afghan families, belonging to the Hazara Shiite minority who have fled to Iran. Young men are offered the chance to gain residency if they agree to fight in Syria to defend Assad. Usually, the Iranians portray the Shiite’s recruited to fight in Syria as “defenders of the shrine,” referring to the shrine of Sayyida Zainab, which is sacred to Shiite Muslims.

“Under international law, military recruits must be at least 18,” the Times reported, “and the training or deployment of soldiers younger than 15 is considered to be a war crime.”

Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Falaki, who had served with the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, boasted last year that the recruitment of foreign Shiites, including Afghans, was with the goal of “the formation of a Shia liberation army” that would ensure that “we will not have anything called Israel in 23 years.”

The forced recruiting to the Haraza has been reported for some time.

In May 2015, Der Spiegel reported on the plight of the Haraza in Iran noting that of the estimated 2 million Haraza in Iran, thousands had been recruited to fight in Syria.

When a Syrian rebel offered to trade Afghan prisoners, a Syrian officer reportedly responded, “Do what you want with them. You can kill them, they’re just mercenaries. We can send you thousands of them.”

A few months later, Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militant groups, described the Haraza recruits fighting in Syria to Agence France-Presse, “In terms of how they are recruited, deployed, and utilized in Syria, many Afghan Shiite fighters have suffered the fate of being used as cannon fodder.”

Seth Frantzman observed in Iran Is Trafficking in Human Beings to Save Assad in Syria, which was published in the March 2017 issue of The Tower Magazine.

But the evidence proves that the IRGC has been targeting tens of thousands of vulnerable people to fight Assad’s war in Syria. Recruiters are paid a commission by the Iranian government to target Afghans rather than Iranians. The government has established a deep network throughout Hazara communities in Iran and Afghanistan, targeting the poor and those seeking work. It has lured them from Pakistan. In Iran it uses coercion by threatening those who refuse with deportation. It also offers passports and residency permits that it does not provide, hoping that the fighters will die as “martyrs” before they ask for compensation. It also recruits prisoners, paying them less than other recruits and promising them time off their sentences. It flies the recruits back and forth to Syria on civilian planes used by the IRGC. The Afghans have no travel documents, which means they are controlled entirely by the IRGC while in Syria and cannot flee. Underage teens are also recruited.

Clearly, Iran’s recruitment of refugees and asylum seekers violates UN guidelines that call on nations to “prevent the military recruitment of refugees in camps and settlements” and to “ensure that measures are taken to prevent the recruitment of refugees by government armed forces or organized armed groups.” This amounts to human trafficking.

[Photo: iranncr / YouTube]