Iranian authorities are struggling to address smuggling in border areas, and particularly the Kurdish region, where local economies are in tatters after decades of government neglect and discriminatory policies. Thousands of Kurds carry illegal goods into the country from Iraqi Kurdistan for a fee in order to provide for their families, in operations commonly organized by wealthy smuggling rings in Tehran and other big cities. The Kurdish men are known as "kolbar" — porters crossing the remote mountains between Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan with goods smuggled on their backs.
The Iranian government was expected to finally take action on the issue last year as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a rare intervention. “Be determined in fighting smuggling. When I say smuggling, I don’t mean a poor kolbar from Baluchistan who goes to the other side of the border and carries a thing on his back to this side. … This is not important, it won't matter even if you don’t confront them," Khamenei told officials last year. "I am talking about big coordinated smuggling [rings]; we need to fight them, we are the state, we have the power.”