Kurdish cross-border porters, kolbars, will be issued with smart cards in a bid to regulate the semi-legal profession, the governor of Iran’s West Azerbaijan province revealed as quoted by Kurdish media network Rudaw.
Some 50,000 people living in villages within 20 kilometers of the Kurdistan Region-Iran border near Piranshahr and Sardasht will be given the special cards, according to Governor Mohammed Mehdi Shahriari.
Authorities will begin issuing the cards within two weeks. The smart cards will replace the kolbar license that was introduced in 2016. Smart card owners will have a quota on what they export and will be levied lower customs fees
Kolbars are semi-legal porters who carry heavy loads of goods on their backs across the mountains from the Kurdistan Region to Iran. Some import items that are banned in Iran, like alcohol. There are about 70,000 individuals registered as kolbars in the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah. These mainly Kurdish provinces are among the poorest in Iran.
The Iranian government has promised more economic development in these areas in order to eliminate the kolbar profession. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Iranian National Security Council, has said it is an ugly fact for Iran that there are still Kurdish kolbars.
“It is an ugly fact for us that there is still a Kurd who is a kolbar. We did not intend to push a brave Kurd to become a kolbar, nor was it a good answer to the loyalty of the Kurdish people,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Iranian National Security Council told reporters, explaining that Tehran has taken certain decisions to solve the problems of the Kurdish areas.
He said the Iranian government has great respect for the Kurdish people, whom he claimed supported the Islamic Republic since day one. The people of Kurdistan are respectable people and the Iranian government is proud of them, he asserted.
Kolbars frequently come under the fire of Iranian border guards. They also risk their lives in the treacherous mountain passes and cold winter temperatures on the Kurdistan Region-Iran border.
At least 167 kolbars died in 2017 – some killed by Iranian border guards and others died on the treacherous mountain passes they traverse. Hundreds more were arrested, fined, or wounded by Iranian border guards, according to the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN).
Some kolbars are licensed by the Iranian government, though even they often face harsh treatment from border guards. Smuggling is outlawed. Some kolbars smuggle banned goods like alcohol across the border. The Kurdish provinces of Iran are among the poorest in the country, suffering years of underdevelopment.