The porters explain that they earn about US$30 for carrying around 80 kilograms worth of stock over the border.
Sardasht – not his real name – works at a point near Haj Omran and he is happy to detail the dangers that he and his colleagues face. The Iraqi Kurdish border guards don’t tend to cause them any problems because all of the goods are legal inside Kurdistan. However, the Iranian border guards, and even worse the IRGC fighters, are far more dangerous.
Sardasht says that IRGC guards shot at him two months ago; he was only injured but a friend he was with, was killed. Sardasht says he was taken to hospital in Erbil and he has been recovering. He is back doing the job again now, he says, because there are just no other jobs available to him.
“We walk five kilometres at night and we deliver our goods to porters from Iranian cities, who are waiting for us on that side of the border,” another porter, Omid, tells NIQASH. “But the whole time we worry we will be shot by the Pasdaran forces [a colloquial name for the IRGC].”
Omid says a number of his friends have been killed and he worries that he will be next.
Landmines, planted in this border area during the Iran-Iraq war, are also a major problem. According to a report by the Kurdish Human Rights Society – an opposition group in Iranian Kurdistan – seven porters were killed and 27 injured between January and August 2017, thanks to land mines.
Another porter, Yassin Saedi is 30 and originally from Mariwan in Iran. But he now lives in Iraqi Kurdistan. He says he first started doing this work when he was 12 years old and he would still be doing it, if he had not received a warning from Iranian security services recently. “They told me I should quit the job or leave Iran,” he told NIQASH. “That’s why I am in Iraq now, to save my life.”