The porter – or “colber” – lives in dire conditions on the border between Iran and the Kurdistan region of Iraq, to earn a living under miserable economic and social conditions. According to data from human rights organizations, 56 of them died and 167 were injured in 2020.
In a report published in the British newspaper, The Independent (INDEPENDENT), the writer Muhammad Salih Badrakhan says that smuggling of goods across the Iraqi-Iranian borders has become a source of income for thousands of people who are known locally as “kulbar” (kul means in Kurdish: back, and land means: pregnant).
These porters carry 25 to 120 kilograms of goods on their backs, crossing dangerous and mined mountainous border terrain.
They buy electronic products, cigarettes, and fabrics from Erbil and other regions in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, then deliver them to merchants at collection points inside Iran.
After the porter moves his load for a period of 10 to 12 hours, he charges a commission between $ 7 and $ 12. The writer adds that the task becomes more difficult during the winter months, as porters cross mountain paths covered with snow to a height of a meter, and risk their lives and safety in order to transport goods.
Their ages range – as the author mentions – between 15 and 75 years old, and many of them hold university degrees in medicine and engineering. Difficult economic conditions and unemployment have pushed them to do this hard work to earn a living.
The seriousness of the situation
In this regard, the head of the “Hankaw” Center for Human Rights in Iran, Arslan Yarahmadi, says that they monitor deaths and injuries among porters on the Iraqi-Iranian borders on a weekly basis.
Yarahmedi indicated that 56 porters were killed at the border during the past 12 months, including 45 killed by border guards, 4 in car accidents, and 7 due to cold weather, in addition to about 170 wounded and injured.
The coordinator of the “Kurdistan Network for Human Rights”, Laila Hasanoub, believes that the phenomenon of domestic abuse expresses an economic, political and security problem. “We are monitoring the region and tracking this path through our activities. There is a severe economic crisis in the region. There is no industry, agriculture or tourism in these villages in which they work. Residents of the region are either forced to move to the advanced Iranian cities, or work in this profession,” she said. “.
“As long as Iran deals with this issue from a security perspective, the death of the porter on the roads will not stop. If measures are taken to solve the problem, and the economic situation of the region’s residents improves, they will completely disappear.”
Turkish sociologist Hamid Razapur told The Independent newspaper in its Turkish version that the profession of porter appeared due to the economic crisis, and asserts that “there are no factories in the region for people to work in. There are unemployed teachers, doctors and engineers among these porters, in addition to children under the age of 18 and people Over the age of 70. Some see porting as a profession, but unfortunately it is a social problem, and it is a phenomenon that is dealt with as a fait accompli.
Among the painful stories that the writer relays about these porters is the story of Nader Mohammadi, a 33-year-old young man who started working as a child. Mohammadi says that he was shot in the back by border guards in the Sardasht area in 2013, and that he has undergone 3 surgeries since then, which his brothers paid for.
Mohammadi confirms that many porters were paralyzed by the bullets of the border guards, and many of them became wheelchairs. “I am lucky that I am still alive and survived thanks to some surgeries. Maybe I will join the porter again.”
Shahwan Mirevani – another 37-year-old youth who has been carrying goods at the border for 7 years – says that the chance of returning safely to their homes does not exceed 30%, due to mines, border guards and difficult terrain.
“Sometimes we travel in convoys of at least a thousand people, sometimes in groups of 300 or 400 people. We face the risk of freezing or avalanches in the winter. I have had this experience many times,” he added.
Mirevani tells one of the stories that happened last year, saying, “The brothers Azad and Farhad – both under 18 – were working with me in a porter caravan on a dark, dark night. We were wearing appropriate clothes, but Azad and Farhad were not able to buy winter clothes, gloves and socks. The moment the two brothers disappeared and we were unable to find them. We were buried under the snow .. It was the longest night in my life. “