Escaping Iran – the New Brain Drain
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Over the last three decades, Iranian society has suffered a continuing brain drain. Now it is facing a new crisis affecting its young people, which might best be described as the “escape from Iran”.
The results of a poll published last month showed that at least eight out of ten young Iranians are interested in leaving to live in a developed country. The widespread participation of young Iranians in the American Green Card lottery and the countless applications for immigration to countries like Canada, Australia and even the United Arab Emirates serve to underline this astonishing figure.The strong motivation to leave Iran is clearly apparent when you talk to young people. They see emigration as the only way to escape economic and other difficulties. It’s not that they are fascinated by life in the West, or that they have some ideal city in mind that they’d like to live in. The desire to leave is instead a reaction to difficult circumstances.
Today’s young Iranians enjoy very few opportunities to realise their ambitions. Hardly any of them believe they will be able to pursue what they’re interested in if they stay in their own country. It isn’t just the widespread unemployment, the difficulty of getting married, the high property prices or anything else. It’s that they feel the doors are closed to them.
The urge to get out of this impasse can be seen in the recent popularity of pyramid schemes. In the three years that companies running this kind of scheme have existed in Iran, around three million young Iranians have been drawn to just one of them, called Gold Quest. All of them hoped to earn huge amounts by taking part.
This situation has been brought about by diminishing hopes for the future. Even a few years ago, young people felt they lacked opportunities to change the conditions they were living in. The difference now is that they have lost hope that the situation will improve.
More than anything else, this new sense of desperation is a consequence of the disruption caused to Iran’s economic order by the policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, coupled with increasing social pressures.
In short, the most important change of recent years is the emergence of a sense that the future is bleak.
Another factor driving people to leave Iran is the sense of insecurity. The lack of social support systems such as unemployment insurance and the weakening of traditional social bonds has left the younger generation feeling abandoned.
The government has focused much of its funding and attention on things like religion which really don’t need official backing, while those areas that are in fact in dire need of government support, such as employment, social security and housing, have been left on the margins.
At a time when the government’s energy is consumed by international crises such as the nuclear dispute, and expenditure on security and defence has increased by 300 per cent, it is natural that the social sector has not received the support it needs.
According to the leading political commentator Saeed Hajjarian, the government has had to choose between a policy of “suspension of enrichment” and one of “enrichment in suspension”, and it has opted for the latter. In other words, nuclear enrichment is going ahead but the economy has effectively in a state of suspension.
Another reason why young people feel they have less freedom of movement at home is the nature of the political system, which is constantly on the lookout for ways to extend its control over all areas of life. Public announcements about transferring the economy to the private sector and reducing the role of government have never been seriously put into practice. On the contrary, government interference has increased.
Young people now face a serious challenge from government in every area, from music and sport to economics, and just walking in the streets. This restricts their room for manoeuvre at every turn. The government has very different values from theirs, and it tries to impose its view of things on the whole of society.
So it makes sense for young people to consider escaping from Iran, as the only route out of the situation they find themselves in. They aren’t taken seriously in the society they live in, the future looks uncertain, and they can’t plan for the future or even satisfy their basic desire for happiness and fun.
The realities of their situation are so patently obvious that government propaganda has failed to inspire any sense of optimism in Iranian society.
Mohammad Navidi-Kashani, former managing editor of the Eftekhar newspaper.