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Iran’s Economic Migrants

July 3, 2013

Iran’s Economic Migrants

Many will remember the statement by former US secretary of state Madeline Albright that the sanctions against Iraq which killed at least 500,000 Iraqi children were a ‘price worth paying.’ Now there is another ‘price worth paying’. This time it is the people of Iran, through sanctions. 

Sanctions, of course, aren’t something new in Iran. Ever since it dared to takes its nation back its own hands and away from a US backed dictator, sanctions have been used as an instrument of war to return Iran into the fold of the imperialist system. In 1979, the US imposed sanctions to punish the people of Iran. In 1996, these sanctions were expanded to target any US firms that had dealings with Iran. While a few years after making it into George Bush’s axis of evil, sanctions were extended massively, in response to Iran enriching uranium. The United Nations Security Council claimed this was for the development of nuclear weapons, despite no actual evidence that this was the case. This was also done despite no sanctions being placed against Israel or Pakistan or India for having nuclear weapons, not to mention the United States itself.

Assets were frozen on a large scale. The sanctions though were expanded even further in 2007 and 2010 after successful votes in the Security Council. The only countries who opposed the sanctions on the Security Council were Brazil and Turkey. While these were themselves fairly extensive (the list of their scope can be found here), many countries have taken them further. For instance, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on May 23 ‘Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has announced new sanctions against Iran, including a total ban on imports and exports.”

The US has banned all trade and investment with Iran since 1995. PBS reported on the sanctions imposed by the US (separate to those imposed by the United Nations). It said ‘The U.S. Treasury Department administers a vast array of financial sanctions against Iran, from bans on the importation of gifts over $100 to laws barring financial dealings with Iranian entities. Efforts to ban Iranian banks from accessing the U.S. financial system have also increased in recent years. In November 2011, the United States designated the entire Iranian banking regime as potentially aiding and abetting terrorist activities.’

Also that ‘President Obama also issued an executive order in November 2011 targeting Iran’s oil revenue by stopping foreign financial institutions from conducting oil transactions with Iran’s central bank, which handles most of the country’s oil payments. In March 2012, in a move required by Congress to implement the new sanctions, the president certified that the global oil market was strong enough to support the loss of Iranian oil. ”

The EU also banned the importation of oil from Iran on July 1st 2012. All of this has been done to cripple Iran’s economy, in order to exert maximum political influence over the country. In this sense, it has worked. The main source of income in Iran is oil and with an inability to sell it, revenue has plummeted. In 2011, Iran exported 2.5 million barrels per day, in May this year it was 700,000. With a collapse of income, came an inability to afford basic goods such as food or medical supplies, all of which has led to massive inflation.

Official data puts inflation at 34 per cent for the year. However, it is believed to be much higher than that, with some measurements putting it at 69.6 per cent per month, which is in the realms of hyperinflation. Hyperinflation has only been measured 58 times in history. Inflation has always been high in Iran but worsened under Ahmadinejad, who was known for his ‘easy money’ policies. In some cases, he would just give money out to people. Sanctions have caused it to spiral out of control. Sanctions have also affected growth. Iran’s official growth rate in 2012 was 0.36 per cent, much below trend.

Al Jazeera reported on unemployment in Iran and said “The country’s official unemployment rate is around 12 percent, but some analysts think the actual figure may be double that.

Youth unemployment could be as high as 40 percent and Iran has one of the world’s highest “brain drain” rates.’

Those who have left in search of opportunities elsewhere are victims of the sanctions, as are people within the countries itself. The human impact can be seen quite clearly in an opinion poll released by Gallop. It found that 50% of Iranians can’t afford to buy food that they or their family needed, up from 46% in 2011. 85% believe that sanctions have affected their livelihoods. 34% believes their lives are getting worse. While 58% and 54% feel worried and angry every day.

Only 13% of Iranians blame their government for the economic problems they suffer. The sanctions themselves have barely impacted support for the nuclear programme Iran has, which is at 68%. Fundamentally, this is a question of sovereignty and national independence and the fact that Iran hasn’t bowed down to the wishes of the US has seen them punished but not destroyed. National independence means a lot to people and is not given up so easily as what the west may think.

Many westerners and some Iranian exiles blamed the sanctions on Ahmadineijad’s ‘attitude’ and believed it would change with the election of the moderate, Rouhani. Two weeks after his election, though,  the US imposed new sanctions. Obama’s administration has issued nine different rounds of sanctions against Iran. He is just as committed as George Bush, if not more, to destroying Iran.

That people would flee from this should not be in question. Now, though, in Australia, we are involved in a bizarre discussion about Iranian refugees. Australia’s foreign minister Bob Carr wants to stop Iranian ‘economic migrants’ from claiming refugee status. He himself has identified the source of it and said “They’re leaving their country because of the economic pressures – much of it produced, I guess, by the sanctions that apply to Iran,” Sanctions he has supported and extended while being foreign minister. So, he knows sanctions he supports causes people to flee and he thinks the answer is to lock the people fleeing up and send them back to a country they are imposing sanctions against, rather than stopping the source of people having to flee in the first place.

The reality is, Iranians will flee will sanctions remain, if you’re going to ‘stop the boats’ of people from Iran, the only way to do it is to lift sanctions, something Australia is not going to do. It is not the duty of people in Australia to deny that economic reasons are causing a lot of  people to leave but rather to say, yes, that is the case and we are partially responsible for it happening in the first place.

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