Dozens of Afghan migrants allegedly thrown into river by Iranian guards

HERAT (Afghanistan) • Officials in Afghanistan yesterday launched a search to retrieve the bodies of Afghan migrants from a river in a western province after reports claimed that Iranian border guards had tortured and thrown the Afghans into the river to prevent their entry into Iran.

Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that an inquiry had been launched.

A senior official in the presidential palace in Kabul said initial assessments suggested at least 70 Afghans trying to enter Iran from bordering Herat province were beaten and pushed into the Harirud river. The Harirud river basin is shared by Afghanistan, Iran and Turkmenistan.

Doctors at Herat District Hospital said they had received several bodies of Afghan migrants, some of whom had drowned.

"So far, five bodies have been transferred to the hospital. Of these bodies, it's clear that four died due to drowning," said Dr Aref Jalali, head of the hospital.

The Iranian consulate in Herat denied the allegations of torture and subsequent drowning of dozens of Afghan migrant workers by border guards.

"Iranian border guards have not arrested any Afghan citizens," the consulate said in a statement on Saturday.

Iranian embassy officials in the Afghan capital Kabul were not immediately available for comment.

Mr Noor Mohammad said he was one of 57 Afghan citizens from Herat's Gulran district caught by Iranian border guards on Saturday when they were trying to cross into Iran in search of work.

"After being tortured, the Iranian soldiers threw all of us in the Harirud river," he added.

Mr Shir Agha said at least 23 of the 57 people thrown by Iranian soldiers into the river were dead.

"Iranian soldiers warned us that if we do not throw ourselves into the water, we will be shot," he said.

Local officials in Afghanistan said that it was not the first time that Afghans had been tortured and killed by Iranian guards patrolling the 920km-long border.

Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali said in a tweet to Iranian officials: "Our people are not just some names you throw into the river. One day we will settle accounts."

The incident could trigger a diplomatic crisis between Iran and Afghanistan at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has seen a mass exodus of Afghan migrants from Iran, with many testing positive for Covid-19.

Up to 2,000 Afghans daily cross the border from Iran, a global coronavirus hot spot, into Herat.

As of yesterday, at least 541 infected people are from Herat province, which has recorded 13 deaths, with the majority of positive cases found among Afghan returnees from Iran, said Mr Rafiq Shirzad, a Health Ministry spokesman in Herat.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2020, with the headline 'Dozens of Afghan migrants allegedly thrown into river by Iranian guards'. Subscribe