ISLAM QALA: Iran is sending tens of thousands of Afghan migrants back to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan every week despite the threat of famine, aid agencies and witnesses say, with many Afghans alleging they have been mistreated by Iranian authorities.
During decades of conflict, millions of Afghans have crossed into their western neighbour seeking to escape violence and a shattered economy.
The Taliban takeover of Kabul in mid-August has compounded the crisis — disrupting international aid flows just as a severe drought has left more than half of the population facing acute food shortages.
But, despite the dire conditions awaiting them, Iran continues to force Afghans back over the border.
Returning Afghans reported being held in crowded, filthy detention camps where some were beaten before being transported to the border crossing.
“They did not see us as humans,” said 19-year-old Abdul Samad, who said he had been working in construction in Iran before he was deported.
Samad said at the border he was beaten by Iranian authorities in a migrant detention camp because he had no money to pay for his deportation.
“They tied our hands and blindfolded our eyes with pieces of cloth, and insulted us,” he said.
The testimonies of Samad and others could not be independently verified, and UN agencies did not wish to comment on the specifics.
However, the International Organisation for Migration says just over one million Afghans have been sent back this year — including more than 28,000 Afghans in the last week of October.
Increasing returns to the country have compounded the challenges facing Afghanistan, IOM director general Antonio Vitorino said in a statement.
“The majority were deported, returning to Afghanistan often broke and broken, in need of health support, food and rest,” he said.
Between October 21 and 27, the latest period for which IOM has figures, 28,115 Afghan migrants returned from Iran, and so far this year 1,031,757 have returned.
The UN migration agency, which provides assistance to those in need at the border, said last month that it had counted at least 3,200 unaccompanied children among those crossing from Iran this year.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR has appealed to all nations to stop the forced returns of Afghans given the “highly volatile situation”, and has been continuing to “advocate with the government of Iran”.
Iran has always said it welcomes Afghan refugees and provides them with needed assistance, and has sent aid shipments to the neighbouring country in recent weeks.
Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, was quoted by Iranian media in late October as saying “we are hosting our Afghan brothers almost without receiving any new resources from the international community”.
“In addition to food, shelter, medicine and education, we now provide Covid-19 vaccines to refugees while we are under severe and illegal US sanctions,” he was quoted as saying.
Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi last month called on Afghans not to come to the country because “our capacities are limited”, according to the state-run Tehran Times. Those who did come to the borders were “treated with kindness and respect”, he added.