Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in Iran, a humanitarian time-bomb also for Europe
800 thousand registered Afghans live in the Islamic Republic and over three million undocumented; since the return to power of the Taliban at least 300 thousand people have left the country to seek shelter across the border. Tehran responds to the entries with push backs, expulsions, alleged abuse and violence.
Tehran (AsiaNews) - A refugee emergency is unfolding along the border between Iran and Afghanistan amid international silence: for weeks, at a rate of 4-5 thousand a day, Afghan citizens have been crossing the Iranian border on a more or less regular basis to escape the Taliban who have returned to power.
The total number is in the order of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. And the consequences, as happened in the recent past for Turkey with Syrian refugees, will not only affect the Islamic Republic but could end up involving Europe, already struggling with the new front between Poland and Belarus.
Among the few voices warning of the dire situation that is likely to precipitate is Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), who this week met with refugees who entered the eastern province of Kerman, near the Afghan border. The emergency could soon arrive at the gates of the Mediterranean if the flow is not interrupted; much more must be done to ensure food, assistance and a future for those fleeing from the "Koranic students" who now control Afghanistan and their violence.
Egeland points out to the Associated Press, "“Many Afghan refugees called their relatives telling them they are on their way to Iran and many want to go on to Europe, so Europe should be less occupied with a few thousand (refugees) sitting on the Polish-Belorussian border.” "Only today," he added, "many more people have come to Iran than are sitting on the Polish-Belarusian border.
Iran and Afghanistan share a 945 km long border, with three crossing points. According to the latest statistics, 800,000 registered Afghans and over three million undocumented live in the Islamic Republic; since the beginning of the emergency in Kabul, last August, at least 300,000 people have left the country to seek shelter across the border. Egeland underlines the great work carried out in terms of reception by Tehran, but the economic crisis that has hit the country, added to the Covid-19 emergency and the policy of maximum pressure through sanctions by the United States risks to precipitate the picture. "There is no economy, there is no assistance and there is little even in terms of food and housing for millions of needy people," recalls the head of the NRC, and with the arrival of winter the problems risk "becoming even more acute".
In a situation of growing emergency and strong pressure on a nation that can not, alone, meet the needs of all these refugees, the leaders of the Islamic Republic have initiated a policy of rejections, sending back across borders tens of thousands of refugees in recent weeks. In some cases, there have also been incidents of violence and abuse on the part of the Iranian authorities, who lock refugees up in crowded, dirty detention camps where repeated beatings and assaults take place, before transporting them to border crossings for repatriation operations.
"They don't consider us human beings," 19-year-old Abdul Samad, who worked for some time in construction in Iran before being deported, also suffered a heavy beating from Iranian authorities because he didn't have the money to cover the costs of repatriation, tells Afp. "They tied our hands and blindfolded our eyes with rags, and then insulted us," he recalls. His story, like those of others, is difficult to verify independently and the same UN agencies active in the area do not want to talk about specific situations, but the general climate is of high tension for a situation that risks to explode and overwhelm the whole region and Europe.