Iran’s mouthpiece Fars News Agency has reported that the director of the oil company in the city of Khalafiyeh plans to expel local Ahwazi labours, under the pretext of Iran’s ongoing financial crisis, which is widely attributed to gross mismanagement and diversion of funding towards extranational terrorist organisations, as well as US sanctions as a result of the terror financing.
The Agency claimed that the Khalafiyeh oil field is one of 28 oil fields made operational in 2018 in Ahwaz, with the stated aim of creating job opportunities and increasing oil production to counter US sanctions. However, the status of oil reservoirs in Khalafiyeh (Ramshir) and corporate machinations have not correlated to previously claimed plans, raising the possibility of expelling Ahwazi labourers, who already suffer disproportionately from increasing unemployment, particularly in Khalafiyeh.
Local agencies in Ahwaz noted that the director of the company has a plan to cease the activity of the field, despite having spent 800 billion tomans (6 million dollars) to operate the field. The CEO of the oil field said, “The reason for halting production is the lack of financial resources due to non-payment by the owner (the national oil fields in the south),” adding: “For this purpose, negotiations were conducted with the employer to change the type of contract in order to re-work in the oil company.”
The CEO of AWIC Oil Company, Gholam-Reza Manouchehri, sacked two project managers in the oil company and appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saba, Farzad Hajivand as the new director in Khalafiyeh oil field. Following these changes, Manouchehri tasked Hajivand to implement a plan to reduce the number of workers in the oil company. The company announced on 13 February 2019, broadcasting through the Central Radio and Television station in Ahwaz, that 2,000 people would be employed in the oil field in Khalafiyeh. Therefore, firing these Ahwazi workers will lead to an unemployment crisis in the county.
Speaking to DUSC, an Ahwazi employee working in the Khalafiyeh oil field, whose name and identity are withheld for safety reason, said that the policy of the new director in his negotiations with the national oil fields in the south is to replace Ahwazi workers with labourers from other regions in Iran. He noted that this policy might lead to a new economic crisis in Khalafiyeh, pointing out that “the economic deterioration threatens the stability of Ahwazi families. Consequently, the expulsion of Ahwazi labourers will make more than 400 families suffer from lack of access to their most basic rights in life.”
The Ahwazi labourer added that after the oil field operated in 2018, it was agreed that about 20 per cent of job opportunities would be provided to residents of Khalafiyeh (80% of other labourers from Iran, which translates to being ethnically Persian). The Ahwazi labour said, “We had hoped to reduce the unemployment crisis in the county after operating the oil field by employing workers from Khalafiyeh.” Therefore, replacing the Ahwazi workers with regime-favoured ethnic Persians will lead to two crises: “an increase in unemployment in Ahwaz in general and Khalafiyeh in particular – and risks from a policy of demographic change by bringing 2000 Persian labourers with their families to Khalafiyeh.”
A former labourer in Khalafiyeh oil field agreed by saying: “I used to work at the oil company for two years, but I lost my job under the pretext of the financial crisis. Currently, the company’s director says that we have a plan to expel 400 workers out of 2,000 labourers.” He emphasised that “all 400 workers who will be expelled are residents in Khalafiyeh, but Persians labourers will continue to work.”
Another labourer noted that the director of oil in Khalafiyeh is leading two fields, the first one is in Khalafiyeh and the second one is in Mansouri area in Falahiyeh because both fields are managed by one administration. Therefore, the average labourers in Khalafiyeh oil field are about 2000 workers – 400 Ahwazis from Khalafiyeh and the rest from other regions in Iran, including the Mansouri oil field that was operated in 2019, with more than 1,000 workers. Consequently, a significant percentage of these workers (not just Khalafiyeh) will lose their jobs. Thus, about 1,400 families will suffer unemployment (400 in Khalafiyeh and perhaps 1,000 in Mansouri although the authorities have not commented on Mansouri labourers). It must be stressed that the hiring and firing patterns reflect an explicit and thoroughly racist preference toward ethnic Persians.
It is worth noting that the Khalafiyeh oil field covers an area of approximately 11,857 hectares, and the average production capacity of the oil field is currently 32,000 barrels per day. According to the Oil Ministry Agency, Ramin Roghanian, Deputy Director of Technical Affairs (Petroleum Engineering) at the National Southern Oil Fields Company said: “ Khalafiyeh field is located 120 km southeast of Ahwaz city, where the Bangistan reservoir for this field was discovered in 1962 by drilling ‘Well No. 2’ and economic production of oil began in 1997 at ‘Well No. 6’.“ Roghanian claimed that the monthly production of Iran’s revenue from the oil field in Khalafiyeh is more than $23 million (about $270 million annually). On the other hand, Ibrahim Matinian, a representative of Khalafiyeh and Ramez in the Iranian parliament, stated that “the oil fields in the two cities could produce 600 thousand barrels per day.”
Meanwhile, Khalafiyeh former Governor Jacob Asa’adi announced in 2011 that the county’s unemployment rate was 14.6%. Asa’adi added: “The city has tens of thousands of hectares of fertile land along the Jarahi River, huge resources of oil, gas and many minerals, and it is located near the economic zone in Ma’shor, and there is also the ability to establish transformational industries, but the unemployment rate in the county is 14.6%.” He noted: “Unemployment and poverty are widespread in the county, where 8,800 people from Khalafiyeh receive support from Khomeini Relief Foundation and the Behzisti/ State Welfare Organisation” (this means that these people live below the extreme poverty line). According to official data, the unemployment rate in Khalafiyeh reached 18.3% in 2016. However, residents believe that the actual unemployment rate in the county is currently close to 20%.
There is no doubt that the county’s Ahwazi residents (rural and urban residents) suffer from openly racist Iran regime policies that have caused unemployment, confiscating of agricultural lands, pollution, sanitation, environmental damage and extreme poverty. Therefore, dismissing 400 workers from the oil field will increase even the acknowledged unemployment rate to more than 20%, which is relatively high compared to the average unemployment rate in Iran. This policy does not only threaten the economic security in Khalafiyeh, but also threatens to change the demographics of the county by employing more workers from ethnically Persian regions, and reducing native labour further from the artificial 20% quota previously imposed by the regime. This constitutes ethnic cleansing, which is flagrantly illegal under international law.
When regime Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf visited Ahwaz, parliament members representing Ahwazi counties shed light on a number of problems there, including pervasive unemployment, water crises, and projects left incomplete. Ahwaz remains home to well over 80% of economic resources in Iran, but a large number of residents are suffering from unemployment due to the openly racist policies mentioned above.
We stress again that Iran violates international labour law by selectively firing Ahwazi workers as it systematically provides job opportunities to ethnically Persian settlers in Ahwazi cities. Therefore, there is an expectation that the town of Khalafiyeh will witness a crisis, such as the workers’ crisis in the city of Susa (Haft Tapeh). However, the regime will continue its approach of repression and threats instead of providing job opportunities for citizens. International human rights and labour organisations must condemn both the racist quotas imposed by the regime and seek to prevent this even more dangerous plan to selectively fire Ahwazi workers under the guise of financial considerations.
By Kamil Alboshoka
Kamil Alboshoka is an Ahwazi researcher and international law specialist. He tweets under @KAlboshoka
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.