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An Afghan Refugee’s Tale of Escaping from an Iranian Cauldron

November 16, 2020
Bagher Ebrahimi
5 min read
Afghan refugees entering Iran illegally are regularly sent to detention camps, where they are beaten and insulted
Afghan refugees entering Iran illegally are regularly sent to detention camps, where they are beaten and insulted
Violence is rife in camps like Sang-e Sefid
Violence is rife in camps like Sang-e Sefid

Mohammad Gol is one of thousands of Afghan refugees in Iran, and his story is a familiar one. Like many, he came to the country illegally to work and faced violence and discrimination. When authorities raided where he was staying, he was taken to a detention camp. There, the situation worsened for him.

Videos have been shared on social media of Afghan refugees being assaulted by police, or even shot and killed, as they try to flee after being discovered as illegal immigrants. The camps they are taken to, such as Sang-e Sefid in Mashhad and Asgar Abad near Tehran, are full of violence and despair. Authorities regularly organize mass forced evacuations of the camps, returning refugees back to Afghanistan without making the necessary checks that there is somewhere for them to shelter when they do return to their native country. Once thrown out, faced with dire prospects, many of these men, women and children return to Iran again. Many are too traumatized to talk about what they have experienced.

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"Minutes after my failed escape, I was part of a crowd in the camp. My hands were tied behind my back and people gathered around me. Their eyes were dim, and their faces were sunburned. I was no longer afraid. I knew what was going to happen. I heard a voice in the distance shouting, ‘Afghan fugitive arrested!’ and several soldiers rushed toward me. I did not want to look into the eyes of the soldiers. I looked away."

Human traffickers smuggled Mohammad Gol into Iran in 2014. Poor and suffering from the hardships of war, he arrived in Tehran only to encounter new problems.

He had lived in Iran for six months, and had been working in the construction industry for two months — handing the money he earned over to the trafficker who had brought him into the country —  when the officers found him. He was asleep, and suddenly there was a loud noise. “Get up, the agents are here,” someone said. He jumped up in terror and saw his friends standing up and beginning to rush out. Mohammad started running too, and reached the top floor of the building. Several other Afghan refugees were also hiding there. Their hearts were pounding and they were trembling like moths. It did not take more than a few minutes before the officers arrived and shouted, "Afghani, you want to flee, huh?"

The bus was waiting in front of the building. Fifteen Afghan workers were to be taken to a place, but they did not know where. The transfer officer was a man with large glasses with gold frames and white lenses. Afghan migrants, some in work uniform and others just in their underwear, were transported to Asgar Abad or Sang-e Sefid detention camps, exhaustion and hopelessness on their faces.

 

"No humanity, mo human rights"

Mohammad Gol told IranWire when he and the others got off the bus, the agents beat them before leading them to a door, behind which about 50 more migrants were lined up. Two police officers read the names of some of them from a list. They were to be sent back to Afghanistan. According to Mohammad Gol and other immigrants who have told their stories to various media outlets, including IranWire, law enforcement officers and soldiers have the first and last word in these camps. “There is no place for humanity or human rights or international treaties; only violence and humiliation,” they say.

Mohammad Gol could not tolerate the high levels of violence and humiliation, and he decided he had to try to leave. "It was more like a suicide than an escape,” he told IranWire. “But when I thought about my debts, I became more determined. I looked around me. People were talking in the corner of the camp yard, and soldiers were coming and going. The heat of the sun boiled my brain. The guards on all four sides of the camp wall watched our movements and behavior. There was no place to escape."

Then a container located in the corner of the camp yard caught Mohammad Gol's attention. He climbed on it, lifted himself up and tried to throw himself over the fence, but got stuck on the barbed wire. A soldier saw what was happening, and started shouting out. Mohammad broke free and ran off. But eventually, the soldiers tracked him down in a car and arrested him.

He told IranWire he was tortured within an inch of his life after being arrested. "A hand kept pushing me from behind. I fell to the ground, knocking my already-aching chest. They started beating me. One of them hit my foot and the other hit me on the back. It was as if they liked it and they kept on beating. I heard a voice say, 'did you want to run away? We're going to destroy you. We're going to show you what it's like to run away ...'  One of the blows was to my head and I fainted. I do not know how long they continued to beat me."

Fellow immigrants later told Mohammad Gol that soldiers continued to beat him and then left him lying there. No one said anything. After a few hours, he opened his eyes. ”People had dragged my half-dead body into the shadows of the wall. I opened my eyes and saw a few of my friends. When I moved, I felt pain all over my body. I heard my friends say to each other, 'He's alive!' I could not speak. I just nodded my head yes."

At that point, officers approached him again, and started beating him again. This time, they took him to a room on his own. He was kept in solitary confinement for a week. During this time, he was tortured several times by camp soldiers. They insulted him, calling him and his family names. A week later, Mohammad Gol was sent out of the  camp to the Afghan border; he needed help getting in and out of the car.

Several years have passed since this nightmare, but Mohammad Gol continues to be haunted by the torture and horrific abuse.

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