As many as 1,000 people from southern provinces arrived en masse in northern Balkh province allegedly looking for poppy harvesting jobs – a move that sparked concern among locals.
One hopeful harvester from Kandahar said he had no work and needed the job.
“We are here because we do not have any alternative. We are here to work. We are here to cut [poppies],” said Abdul Qahar, from Kandahar.
These “harvesters” said they earn between 600 AFs and 1,000 AFs a day.
“We are here to work,” said another Kandahar resident, Jabbar.
“We are here to cut (poppies). Our area is insecure and we are here because we have no way (to work),” said Abdul Ghafor, 18, a resident of Helmand.
Highway police have however reportedly stopped many people from entering Balkh due to their lack of identity cards. However, some of them have been allowed to enter the province after Balkh Provincial Council members stepped in, residents claim.
Balkh was not a poppy cultivating province for eight years, but this has changed in the past two years, residents report.
Local officials have not given exact figures about the extent of poppy cultivation in the province but have in the past promised to destroy the fields.
“Those who would have come (to Balkh) for poppy harvesting were sent back to their relevant provinces by security forces on highways,” the Balkh governor’s spokesman Ahmad Munir Farhad said.
“Those who have been identified by their relatives in Mazar city or by members of the provincial council will be allowed in and there will be no problem if they stay for a few days in the province,” Farhad added.
Meanwhile, Zabihullah Kakar, a member of Balkh Provincial Council questioned the sudden arrival of at least 1,000 people in the province.
“There was almost 1,000 people. One of the reasons which police took quick action in this respect was that these people wanted to enter the province at once. The arrival of at least 1,000 people from other provinces is questionable,” he added.
The Balkh governor’s office however said in a statement that “the presence of brothers from Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and/or Uruzgan in Balkh is to find jobs, to visit the Ali Shrine and to meet their relatives.”
The statement however, rejected claims on social media stating it was about harvesting poppies and said Balkh residents need not be concerned.