The Guardian, 19 February 2020
An excellent reportage from Pakistan’s coal mines where Afghan miners make up around 50% of the workforce, toiling in “one of the world’s harshest work environments”:
The story of the coal miners of Balochistan is one of debt bondage and human rights abuses [including sexual abuse of children], an absence of basic health and safety measures, and brutal working and living conditions. Many of the conditions of modern slavery are evident across these mines, which have not modernised in decades. (…) many of the workers have either migrated from Swat or neighbouring Afghanistan, and are not legally registered, meaning their very existence – and therefore their rights – can be easily dismissed.
(…) When the Guardian visited the Shahrag mine in January, an incident had occurred just 10 days earlier. Two workers, Faiz Mohammed and Samiullah, who had travelled from Afghanistan in desperate search of work and ended up in the mines, died after a mining trolley broke, throwing their bodies 1,000ft into the pit. Ghulam Raza, another worker at Mach who is originally from Ghazni in Afghanistan, describes the daily fear that has haunted him since he witnessed a portion of a mine wall collapse, killing a co-worker. The death was never investigated.
In case of incidents, “only workers from Pakistan are entitled to a government payout.”
Debt bondage is also a huge issue. Mohammed Ibrahim, a frail 40-year-old with one hand, explains that this is the situation in which he has found himself. Hundreds of miles away from his home and seven children in Afghanistan, Ibrahim works as a haulage driver to pay off the 50,000 PKR (£250) he borrowed from the manager of the coal mine to get this job in the first place.
“I chose this work because I couldn’t find any other work,” says Ibrahim, “It is very difficult but I have no other way of paying off the debt. I have to work here until I pay the debt.”
Jawad Ali, his manager, chuckles. “I can’t allow Ibrahim to leave without paying my debt. He has to work until he pays [it].”
This article was last updated on 10 Mar 2020