Reports have emerged of one of the worst human rights abuses on the Afghan-Iranian border within recent memory. It has been reported that last week, between 45 and 55 migrants were remanded by border guards, tortured, and thrown into the river Harirud, between Afghanistan’s Herat Province and Iran’s Khorasan.
Abdul Ghani Noori, Governor of the Gulran district of Herat, told Agence France-Presse: “Out of 55 Afghan migrants who were forced into the river, we have so far recovered 18 bodies.” He added that a number of the bodies showed signs of torture.
“Based on the accounts of survivors and the marks on the bodies of the victims, they were first lashed with wire cables by the Iranian border guards and then forced at gunpoint to jump into the river.”
While the Iranian authorities vehemently deny any involvement, the United States has condemned the actions of the border guards, and supported the Afghan government in launching an investigation. Alice Wells, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for South Asia, tweeted: “Iran’s cruel treatment and abuse of Afghan migrants alleged in these reports is horrifying. We support calls for a thorough investigation. Those found guilty of such abuse must be held accountable.”
The United Nations estimates the number of Afghan migrants in Iran at around 1 million. The true number will be much higher, as many of the migrants are undocumented. The long-suffering Afghan community in Iran faces adversity on a number of fronts. They usually work in low-paid, daily wage jobs, and face social discrimation. Because of the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, new migrants are often suspected of being terrorists.
In 2015, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a decree allowing all Afghan children the right to an education. However, human rights observers suspect this is often not respected, and Afghans are routinely denied access to healthcare, housing and jobs.
In Afghanistan, where terror and war have all but destroyed the economy, many struggle to eke out a living. PRI reports the story of Abdulbari, one of the migrants who recently died. He sold Cheetos from a cart by the side of the road. With the advent of the coronavirus, the Cheeto-buyers stayed in their homes, and Abdulbari was forced into his. Unable to provide for his family of eight, he decided to brave the Iranian border crossing in search of work. In an oft-echoed lament throughout the world’s poorer regions during this pandemic, Abdulbari believed risking his life was better than dying of hunger.
Abdulbari was among the men who could not swim. They drowned when they were thrown into the river. Reuters reports that 12 of the men survived, and 45 died.