Taliban raise concerns over ‘problems’ faced by Afghan refugees in Iran

The Taliban administration has raised concerns with Tehran over difficulties faced by Afghan refugees in Iran, an official said on Sunday, as reports of mistreatment continue to emerge from the neighboring country.

Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their country.

Nearly 600,000 Afghan passport holders live in Iran and about 780,000 are registered as refugees, according to 2022 data from UN High Commissioner for Refugees, while 2.1 million Afghans remain undocumented.

The number of Afghans crossing into their western neighbor has increased since 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country and international sanctions slapped on their administration shattered the economy. Many have since been forcibly expelled back to Afghanistan, and reports of their abuse at the hands of Iranian security forces have been on the rise.

This month, videos circulated on social media shed new light on the ordeal faced by Afghan refugees in Iran. At least one clip showed topless Afghan men chained together and kneeling on the sand, crying and pleading as they are whipped with a belt. Other footage has emerged since last year, with reports of abuse not only by the Iranian police but also by criminal gangs and human traffickers.

“There is no doubt that Afghans have faced a number of problems in neighboring Iran,” Abdul Mutalib Haqqani, spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, told Arab News on Sunday.

“We have talked to Iranian officials…and shared such concerns and problems of Afghans with them,” Haqqani added. “One of the problems is that a big number of Afghans have been forcibly expelled from Iran.”

Iranian security forces have “unlawfully killed” at least 11 Afghans, according to a report by Amnesty International published last August, which also documented the forced returns and torture of Afghans.

Last April, viral footage showing the mistreatment of Afghan refugees in Iran prompted a wave of protests targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat.

Those reports, however, have not deterred Afghans from seeking a better life in Iran, said social activist Dr. Azad, who is based in the western province of Herat.

“About 80 percent of Herat residents have been living in poverty and economic problems,” he told Arab News. “Almost one member of each family from Herat province is traveling to neighboring Iran to find work until they can provide food for their family.

“Those who have passports and those without any documents have all had to face different problems with the Iranian authorities.”

But problems faced by Afghan refugees in Iran are multifaceted and do not always directly involve Iranian officials, said Attaullah Khogyani, an Afghan activist based in Tehran.

“Afghan refugees have a lot of problems in Iran. Sometimes they are arrested and beaten very badly, and after the arrest, they are forcibly expelled to Afghanistan,” Khogyani, whose work focuses on refugee rights, told Arab News in a phone interview.

“There are some groups who abduct Afghans and then ask them to pay money, taking away their passports and other legal documents too,” he added.

“Our neighbors are not treating us well at all and haven’t given us support or help,” he said. “Afghans are suffering a lot now.” 


Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on Tuesday expressed concerns about Afghan migrants living in Iran.

Afghans have been killed in two separate incidents in Iran recently, sparking protests in Kabul and elsewhere.

The first incident took place on May 1 when 13 drowned after they were allegedly coerced by Iranian border guards to cross a river at gunpoint, according to a report from the AIHRC and a probe by Kabul. The second took place in the Iranian city of Yazd on June 5, when three died in a moving car after police opened fire on the vehicle and set it ablaze.

“We are seriously asking Afghanistan’s government and the Foreign Ministry to take seriously the issue of rights of Afghan nationals abroad, and have shared our concerns with them about the abuses that have happened in Iran against them,” Mohammad Alim Azizi, a senior AIHRC official, told Arab News.

He added that, due to a mandate which confines its operations to Afghanistan, the AIHRC could not probe the car incident. Iran has confirmed that the car was shot at, saying that the driver refused to stop despite being instructed to do so. It has promised to share its findings about both incidents with Afghanistan.

But the delay in taking the perpetrators to task has led to a public outcry and Afghans have carried out anti-Iran protests in recent days in Afghanistan, the US and Europe.

The demonstrations of anger led Iran to summon the Afghan envoy on June 14, after a group of protesters threw red ink on the entrance of its Kabul embassy

Afghanistan pledged to send a high-ranking government delegation in the coming days to Iran to discuss bilateral issues and the fate of refugees there.

Iran is home to nearly 3 million Afghans, both legal refugees and illegal immigrants, and Afghans often use illegal smuggling routes along the 900 km border to travel to Iran in search of work.

Iran and Afghanistan have had an uneasy relationship in recent years, with Kabul accusing Tehran of using Afghan Shiite migrants to fight proxy wars in the Middle East, as well as providing cash and arms to Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government and US-led troops in Afghanistan.

Iran has been wary of the presence of US troops in Afghanistan and considers them a threat to the Islamic Republic.

The incidents were described as a wake-up call for Kabul.

Abdul Sattar Husseini, a lawmaker from western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, described the treatment of Afghan refugees by Iran as “utter oppression, terror and injustice.”

Toreq Farhadi, who served as an adviser during the former Afghan government, said Iran had used the presence of Afghan refugees in Iran as a “pyramid of pressure against Kabul” and was part of its policy of “unannounced confrontation” with Afghanistan.

“The new government in Kabul, which is weak and has uneasy ties with its other major neighbor Pakistan, fears to alienate Tehran,” he told Arab News, adding that trade ties were another factor.

“These leaders think that they need to have good relations with Iran, which has become our main trade partner. We annually import $2 billion of goods from there and at the same time Kabul is afraid that Iran can play a negative role in the talks with the Taliban."


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