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Victims of Iran-Afghan Border Drowning Deserve Justice

Iranian Officials Should Cooperate in Impartial Investigation

 Afghans return to Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border with Iran, in the western Herat Province, February 20, 2019 © 2019 AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

Almost a month after reports emerged of the alleged drowning by Iranian border authorities of Afghan migrants attempting to cross the border into Iran, efforts to uncover the truth have achieved little.

At a May 26 meeting in Kabul, Iranian and Afghan officials vowed to jointly investigate the incident, but promises to uncover the truth have so far come to nothing. The victims’ families are still waiting for justice.

An Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission investigation found that Iranian authorities arrested the Afghan migrants while they were crossing the border from Herat province, beat them, and forced them into the Hariroud river. According to the head of the Afghan government’s fact-finding delegation, 46 Afghans entered Iranian territory, out of whom 12 were killed, 17 disappeared, and 17 survived. Other reports say 34 bodies have been recovered.

Families of three victims whose bodies were found on the Afghanistan side of the border told Human Rights Watch that the men had left for Iran on April 30, hoping to find work there. Survivors and a smuggler told the family members that Iran’s border authorities arrested the group of approximately 50 men and children, held them at a guard post overnight, beat and humiliated them, and ultimately forced them into the Hariroud river.

Iran has denied any responsibility for the alleged abuses and the deaths of these migrants, and said it is willing to cooperate with investigations. Iranian police, however, have a long history of abusing Afghan immigrants and refugees with no accountability. Since 2019, Iran’s economic crisis has fueled a dramatic increase in voluntary and forced returns of Afghans.

The drownings have sparked outrage in Afghanistan, while in Iran, several politicians have called for an investigation. It is still not clear how thorough the joint investigation will be, but strong cultural ties and a lengthy shared border with numerous border crossings should push the two countries to conduct a transparent, impartial investigation and hold those who are found responsible accountable. The families of victims are entitled to the truth and justice for their loved ones.

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