Economy, Domestic Economy
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Calls for Border Economic Recovery

Border couriers, referred to as kulbaran in Kurdish, are people of mainly Kurdish-dominated provinces of West Azarbaijan, Kermanshah and Kurdestan who carry contraband on their backs to earn their livelihood.Border couriers, referred to as kulbaran in Kurdish, are people of mainly Kurdish-dominated provinces of West Azarbaijan, Kermanshah and Kurdestan who carry contraband on their backs to earn their livelihood.

The tragic death of border couriers has raised the alarm over the dire economic conditions in border towns. 

Sixteen cross-border back carriers were buried under avalanche and five of them lost their lives in the city of Sardasht in West Azarbaijan Province on January 28.

These border couriers, referred to as kulbaran in Kurdish, are people of mainly Kurdish-dominated provinces of West Azarbaijan, Kermanshah and Kurdestan who carry contraband on their backs through mountainous areas to earn their livelihood. They usually carry the goods from areas bordering Iraq and Turkey to the nearest villages in Iran and from there the goods are transported to cities by road. 

In the face of double-digit unemployment rates and unbalanced distribution of economic opportunities and investment, a majority of border residents are left with two options: to undertake the forced migration to metropolises or to engage in smuggling as a border courier.

According to Rasoul Khezri, representative of Sardasht in the Iranian Parliament, up to 10,000 people work as border couriers in Sardasht and Piranshahr (both located in West Azarbaijan Province) alone. 

The government has even issued “mobility permit” for 8,000 people in Sardasht—allowing them to legally carry loads across safe routes; the move is strongly opposed by another parliamentarian from West Azarbaijan Province, Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh.

“We have given them permits to jeopardize their lives in rugged mountain terrains,” the Persian daily Shargh quoted him as saying. 

This is while many local officials believe cross-border back carrying is one of the main occupations in the region and people should not be deprived of this right unless alternative means of earning a livelihood are found.  

Hosseinzadeh has drawn up a petition signed by 30 lawmakers—until this writing—to empower border provinces and protect these border couriers. 

“To this end, four ministries namely Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs will join hands,” Hosseinzadeh said.

“Investment in border towns will help effect change and safeguard borders. The perspective toward borders needs to be redefined. We need to look at our borders from an economic and commercial standpoints rather than a security one.”  

Pedram Soltani, the deputy head of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, said the government should begin joint investments with cooperatives in border areas.

On ways of creating jobs in border towns, Soltani said incentives for infrastructure development and manufacturing must become available in border areas rather than in central provinces.

“The government should restrict new investments in developed and highly-populated provinces of central Iran, namely Tehran and Isfahan. Currently, these cities are grappling with serious consequences of over-investment, such as air pollution, water shortage, diseases and environmental crisis,” Soltani said.

According to Kiumars Fathollah Kermanshahi, chairman of Exports Commission of Iran Economy House, political instability in neighboring countries and security issues of borders are two of the main hurdles in the way of investment and trade in border provinces. 

To eliminate smuggling and create jobs for border residents, Kermanshahi said the government should end tariff and non-tariff barriers in the way of trade. 

“Easing business, unraveling the labyrinthine bureaucracy, reducing the time and costs of export and import based on the World Bank’s formula and having a strong presence of commerce chambers in each province can help trade in border areas,” he said. 

Kermanshahi underlined that the informal, conventional form of trade in border areas must be remodeled and noted that all organizations and institutions are responsible for trade planning and policymaking in border areas. 

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