In Afghanistan, conflict and violence have been on the rise, while job opportunities have decreased.
These factors have had an impact on illegal immigration, and human trafficking to Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia.
Despite the dangers, data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows that more than 160,000 people have migrated to Europe in the last year, many from war-torn Syria.
In Afghanistan, a country where thousands are also fleeing, reporter Mudassah Shah meets some young Afghans, and the agents behind the illegal trade.
It’s early morning in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan. Haroon Sarwari, 17, and Manzoor Ali, 18, are wearing their backpacks and walking fast to get a taxi to reach to Kabul on time.
They are close friends and planning to travel to Europe illegally, with the help of an agent.
Haroon’s cousins managed to get to Germany three months before, so his father supports the plan.
“My father sold a few of his cows and also borrowed some money from his friends to send me to Europe,” explains Haroon, “He has already finalized the rate with an agent who has the responsibility to take me to Europe.”
But Haroon’s father Sarwar Khan says it has been a tough decision.
“Children are part of the body and soul but I was compelled to make the decision. The security situation in the country is not good and there is no source of jobs,” he says, “The agent told me that Haroon would reach Europe in about three months because the roads are very dangerous.”
Haroon and Manzoor are energetic, happy and anxious during the 3 hour-long drive from Jalalabad to Kabul. They talk all way long only about what their life in Germany will be like.
They say they will take any job, from washing dishes to cleaning toilets, but they never once mention the hardships they might endure, or how risky the journey there will be.
Later that afternoon in the capital, Kabul, hundreds of Afghans, mostly young people, are queuing for their electronic passports.
A survey in December 2015, conducted jointly by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA) and the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, or AREU, found that poverty, insecurity and unemployment are the main reasons driving Afghan youth to immigrate illegally.
The Afghan government recently announced that 250,000 Afghans have been registered as refugees in developed countries.
Dr. Sayed Mahdi Mosawi is a senior researcher with the AREU.
“One of the common points that we have found during our research is that people who go illegally cross borders endure extreme difficult situations from both human trafficking agents and the police,” he explains, “Police severely beat and punish illegal immigrants and even in some cases kill them.”
Some 16 million Afghans are fit for work but only about 3 million have jobs. Mahdi says more jobs would encourage young Afghans to stay at home.
In Kabul it’s not that hard to find an agent to arrange illegal passage.
But it’s not cheap. Agents charge between 5-12 thousand US dollars, depending on the routes and destination countries.
Different European countries have different rates and personal relations with agents can also reduce the rates.
Ramin Jan is an agent.
I met him on a roadside in Jalalabad city, where he asked to remain anonymous. He’s still young, not yet 30, and he tells me the going rates of smuggling.
To get to England, he says is the most expensive, about $12,000 US dollars. He also explains how the illegal, people trafficking networks operate.
“We have a network of agents. We take people from western Afghanistan to Iran and then to Turkey. Our main duty is to hand over our people to an agent in Turkey who are then responsible for further traveling and taking them to European countries,” he says.”
“Initially, it was hard to find even five people to take them to Europe while now a group of 25 to 30 people are always ready in a month to take them to Europe,” he adds.
Sharifa Omeri’s son was killed in Iran eight months ago on their way to Europe via Turkey. She could not forget when her son was shot dead in front when they were running from border police.
Time has stopped since then, she says.
And the journey wasn’t worth the risk.
“I wish I never allowed him to leave the country, that I had stopped him by force so I would not have lost him,” she says.
Despite the lack of jobs, the government is urging Afghan youth to stay at home and has vowed to crack down on people smuggling.