ISLAMABAD – Afghanistan is investigating allegations Iran has tortured and thrown nearly 60 Afghan immigrants into the river to prevent their illegal entry into the country.
Residents in Gulran district in Afghan border province of Herat said the incident happened on Saturday. They told reporters the group of immigrants had crossed into the neighboring country in search of work before being captured by Iranian border guards and later pushed into the Harirud river shared by both Afghanistan and Iran.
Relatives and those accompanying the victims said Sunday seven bodies had been retrieved while 12 men were rescued alive and hunt for the rest was still underway.
Herat officials noted the incident was being probed “comprehensively” and the allegations were also being pursued through diplomatic channels with Iran.
“Our people are not just some names you threw into the river. One day we will settle accounts,” Provincial Governor Sayed Wahid Qtali tweeted Sunday.
Officials in Kabul said Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar has appointed a “fact-finding” commission to investigate circumstances that led to the killing of Afghans.
For its part, Tehran’s consulate in Herat has denied the allegations, insisting Iranian border forces “have not arrested any Afghan citizens.” This position has also been shared with the Afghan government, the Iranian diplomatic mission said in a statement on Saturday.
Iran hosts an estimated three million Afghans, both legal refugees and illegal immigrants. Poverty-stricken and war-weary Afghans often use illegal smuggling routes on the nearly 900-kilometer border between the two countries to travel to Iran in search of work.
Tens of thousands of Afghans, including deportees, have returned to Afghanistan since the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran, where more than 6,000 people have died and nearly 100,000 others have contracted COVID-19.
Afghan officials say many of the returnees have tested positive for the coronavirus, turning Heart into the national epicenter for the disease. The number of infections and deaths in Afghanistan stood at around 2,700 and 85 respectively as of Sunday, according to the Public Health Ministry.