How does COVID-19 effect Afghan migrant workers’ rights in Iran?
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Afghanistan has endured over 40 years of conflict, resulting in a complex humanitarian crisis and the protracted displacement of its population. Millions of Afghans fled to neighboring Iran and Pakistan, some as refugees but many more left to seek employment. According to official Iranian statistics, 2 million Afghan workers live in Iran, making up 10% of the labor market. These labor migrants perform harder jobs in rougher conditions for lower pay than Iranian citizens would tolerate. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on these migrant workers, as many were deported back to Afghanistan, which didn’t have the infrastructure to provide healthcare to most of its citizens even before the pandemic, and many of those who remain in Iran have limited if any access to healthcare. This thesis provides a history of Afghan migration during the four decades of conflict and reviews literature about push and pull factors that motivate migration. This thesis uses the theoretical framework of vulnerability and precarity to examine the research questions of how Afghan migrant workers’ rights in Iran are protected under international human rights law, how these protections are carried out in practice, how COVID-19 has affected the implementation of policies against migrant workers in Iran, how Afghan migrant workers were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This thesis uses a constructionist, interpretivist methodology to qualitatively analyze interviews with nine Afghan migrant workers, half of whom are undocumented, to answer the research questions of how they are perceived in Iran, how they perceive their rights, vulnerabilities, and the policies that affect them, how they perceive the role of international and local actors in implementing their rights, and how they perceive the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. It analyzes themes of powerlessness, vulnerability, and COVID-19 and relates these themes to each other.