Afghanistan’s neighbours have called on the international community to do more to financially support the region, which has largely shielded the rest of the world from dealing with the refugee flows
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.
But, despite the dire conditions awaiting them, Iran continues to force Afghans back over the border.
“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.
“They tied our hands and blindfolded our eyes with pieces of cloth, and insulted us,” he said.
However, the International Organization 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.
“The majority were deported, returning to Afghanistan often broke and broken, in need of health support, food and rest,” he said.
The UN migration agency, which provides assistance to those in need at the border, told AFP last month that it had counted at least 3,200 unaccompanied children among those crossing from Iran this year.
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.
“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.
Those who did come to the borders were “treated with kindness and respect”, he added.
Iran, which shares a 900-kilometre (560-mile) border with Afghanistan, hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, made up mostly of well-integrated Afghans who have arrived over the past 40 years.
Last month, the UN declared that Afghanistan was on the brink of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with more than half of the country facing acute food shortages.
“Iran cannot be expected to host so many Afghans with so little support from the international community,” said Norwegian Refugee Council chief Jan Egeland, who was on a visit to Iran this week.
– No food, overcrowding –
AFP spoke to around 20 returning Afghans at the border and in the nearby city of Herat, who reported that those with no money to buy tickets home were held in detention camps.
One, named Majid, said mobile phones were taken away from the detainees so they could not document the conditions.
With the first chills of winter taking hold, Afghans pushed back to their homeland face an uncertain future.
eb / cyb / ecl / dc / kma / qan
Originally published as Thousands of Afghans deported from Iran to Taliban rule