On 2 May 2020, Afghan media reported that a number of immigrants trying to illegally cross the Iranian border had been detained by Iranian border guards, tortured, and forced to jump into the Harirud (or Herat) River.
The Harirud River is on the border of Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan, and the Dusti Dam was built on the river by Iran and Turkmenistan.
The incident left several people dead and damaged relations between Iran and Afghanistan. IranWire is trying to uncover the identities of those killed and to learn more about their lives. What follows are statements by the families of some of those killed in this incident.
"Eidi Mohammad had just married and was just eight months into his married life. A hard life now awaits his wife. He and his brother were together. Jalil Ahmed was also killed. They were working in Isfahan, Iran, and returned to Afghanistan at the urging of their families after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran. But unemployment and poverty caused them to go back to work in Iran without knowing that they were going to be killed. Their mother is now in a depression and suffers from panic attacks several times a day."
These are the words of Nasrollah Omari, the uncle of two of the Afghan citizens who lost their lives in the Harirud incident. Eidi Mohammad was 21 years old and Jalil Ahmad was 16 years old. Both were working as construction workers in Isfahan to help support their families back in Afghanistan. Apart from these two, Omari's family has lost another relative, a 19-year-old boy named Edris, who was also among those killed at the Harirud river.
According to Omari, who is also Edris's uncle, this third young man wanted to work in Iran to earn money to pay for his marriage. His fiancé, who lives in Iran, now wears black instead of white.
Omari says that his two nieces and nephews had tried to sell clothes in Herat's Kashk-e Robat Sangi Province, in Afghanistan, but they did not find success, so they decided to return to Iran.
In Afghanistan, weddings are expensive; even among poor families, they can cost thousands of dollars. Many young Afghans who seek work in Iran are trying to pay for a marriage – but instead they can lose their lives along the way.
Omari has also travelled illegally into Iran on more than 10 occasions. But he says he never saw Iranian border guards forcing other migrants to jump into the river and to drown.
Now Omari mourns the death of three members of his family – and he blames the Iranian border force. "The work of Iranian border guards is cruel. My loved ones went to work in Iran. Their employers had called and said the spread of coronavirus was contained and they could return to Iran to work. If Iran was an Islamic country, it would not do [what it has done]. Iranian border guards forced them to throw themselves into the river."
Earlier, Afghan migrants told also IranWire that they had been tortured and beaten by Iranian border guards, and had been forced to jump into the river. The bodies of five drowned people have been transferred to Faryab Province in northwestern Afghanistan.
Abdol Razaq Kaker, a local official in Faryab Province, told IranWire that the migrants were breadwinners for their families and that the poor economic situation had forced them to emigrate. Increasing poverty in the country is driving many Afghan citizens to cross into Iran illegally to work.
After the incident, Hamid Tahmasebi, the Herat head of a fact-finding mission established by the Afghan government, said: "These immigrants went to Iran as a group of 46 people to find work. Nineteen of them have been rescued from the river and 11 bodies are still missing."
He added that a similar incident had taken place before.
Ahmad Karkhi, a member of the Herat Provincial Council and of the fact-finding mission, told IranWire that he, along with other local officials in Herat, went to the Zulfaqar area, the site of the incident, describing what happened to the Afghan migrants at that place.
“They were beaten by border guards,” Karkhi said. “The Islamic Republic must monitor the actions of its border guards so that such incidents do not occur. The perpetrators of the torture, beatings, and drowning of Afghan workers must be brought to justice."
Iranian officials have denied that their border guards acted against Afghan refugees.
A number of Afghan citizens have meanwhile gathered in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul and the Iranian Consulate in Herat to protest against the deaths. The protestors say Iranian border guards are accused of "violating human rights laws" and "committing crimes."
Arash Bashiryar, one of the protesters, told IranWire that the Islamic Republic should pay the bereaved families: "We have gathered in front of the Iranian Consulate in Herat to demand justice. The Iranian border guards should not have forced our compatriots to throw themselves into the river."
It seems that Afghans will continue to illegally enter Iran, to work, as long as poverty and unemployment prevails in their country, especially now that, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the issuance of Iranian visas to Afghan citizens has been suspended. The suspension of the visa program has inflated an already lucrative and dangerous human trafficking market. But it is unclear how many of these migrants will survive.