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Afghanistan’s new gateway to Europe seeks to revive economy and reduce migration

Afghanistan has officially opened an international trade route with Europe, known as the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, as it seeks to revive the Afghan economy and boost job opportunities at home.  

President Ashraf Ghani officially inaugurated the Lapis Lazuli Corridor at a ground-breaking ceremony in the province of Herat on 13 December 2018.

In an interview with The Migrant Project, a spokesperson for The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Abdul Fatah Ashrat Ahmadzai, said the project will help to create jobs within Afghanistan and reduce irregular migration.

“In the past, traders from neighbouring countries used to come here and buy cheap products from Afghanistan and then export the products to other flourishing markets with marks of their countries. Now, a big part of the benefits from exporting these products will come in the pockets of Afghan workers and will help in creating new job opportunities and cutting migration outflow,” said Ahmadzai.

Over the past few years, thousands of Afghans have left the country in search of better economic opportunities, but many are now returning home. According to the International Organization of Migration, more than 800, 000 Afghan migrants returned to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan in 2018, due to a lack of economic opportunities abroad.

The Corridor – which connects Afghanistan to Europe via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia – has the potential to boost the economy, according to Ahmad Ghani Khusrawi, a professor at Herat University. He said, “This short route can prove to be very economical for goods coming to Afghanistan and to other countries through Afghanistan.”

According to Khusrawi, this is the first time that landlocked Afghanistan has had access to European markets. “In the past we could hardly export Afghanistan’s fresh fruit because we lacked a proper transportation route,” Khusrawi said.

Previously, Afghanistan’s agricultural products and carpets were exported to Western countries with trade marks from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. This had a negative impact on the profits of Afghan workers while neighbouring countries reaped the economic benefits.

“God willing, the unparalleled grapes of Herat will reach Europe,” said President Ghani. “Herat’s marble, which is unique in the world, will reach Italy and other parts of the world. And Herat’s saffron, which has won three times the title of the world’s best saffron, will be exported everywhere as Afghan saffron.”

President Ghani acknowledged that the Lapis Lazuli Corridor marks the first step in enabling Afghanistan to move from an importer to an export-oriented country.

“One of the greatest obstacles to our goal, which is an export-oriented and connected Afghanistan, has been removed. The goal of the people, the government and the economy of Afghanistan is to be connected,” Ghani said at the ceremony.

ُTMP – 13/02/2019

Photo credit: Ariana News. The Lapis Lazuli Route, which begins in Afghanistan, reaches Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, before connecting to Tbilisi, Georgia, via Baku, Azerbaijan. From Tbilisi the route continues to Kars and Istanbul, Turkey, and onward to Europe.