On Thursday, October 27, workers at Germany’s Frankfurt Airport discovered a dead body in the undercarriage of a plane that had arrived several hours earlier from Iran. The Lufthansa-operated flight LH601 flew direct from the Iranian capital Tehran and it is believed that the person climbed into the landing gear in a bid to leave Iran. Following the incident, Lufthansa along with its sister carrier Austrian Airlines decided to cancel all flights to and from the country. Amid mounting tensions between the EU and Iran after the USA withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement known as the JCPOA in 2018, the suspension of these flights from Austria and Germany marks the end of direct flights between Europe and Iran.
Instances of stow-aways on the undercarriage of airplanes are notably rare due to the incredible dangers they face from potentially being crushed by the landing gear and frostbite from the extreme weather conditions at high altitudes. While we may not know the person’s reasoning to take such a perilous trip, this tragic incident is nevertheless illustrative of the human desperation that has led to similar stories over the last decade in the region. Very few details have been released about the person whose body was found in the undercarriage of the plane, let alone his or her reasons for taking the incredibly dangerous journey. According to the UNHCR, 20,575 people fled Iran in 2021 to seek asylum in other countries; however, the reasons why people choose to live in Iran are diverse and often complex. Iranians who flee the country, who account for roughly one in every four thousand Iranians per year, do so for a variety of reasons be they economic, political, or even personal.
One reason that many Iranian refugees state in their decision to take often dangerous routes to leave the country is that rampant unemployment and a stagnant economy seem to offer very little to Iran’s young population. With staples like cooking oil increasing in price by 3922% over a ten-year period, along with vegetables and meat increasing by 3835% and 1792%, respectively, economic woes are a source of anger and frustration for much of Iran’s population. Argued to be the result of both Western sanctions and economic mismanagement by the national government, the national currency is now worth 10% of what it was five years ago, and predictions of inflation reaching 47% in March 2023 have added to many Iranian’s concerns for their future.
However, alongside economic reasons are political ones, as Iran’s growing young population finds itself at odds with the values enforced by the ultra-conservative government. In September, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the country’s morality police after she was accused of failing to cover her hair adequately, much of the youth’s frustrations with the government came to a head as protests erupted throughout the country accusing the morality police of murdering her. The protests whose slogan has become “women, life, freedom” are very much emblematic of the disconnect many young Iranians feel with their ultra-conservative government and are increasingly stated as a reason for many fleeing the country.
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