The IOM estimates that over a million Afghans have been sent back this year, despite the gloomy conditions that await them.
Iran is sending tens of thousands of Afghan refugees back across the border, aid organizations and witnesses say, amid allegations of ill-treatment by Iranian authorities.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that just over a million Afghans have been sent back this year, including more than 28,000 Afghans in the last week of October, despite the harsh conditions that await them.
“The majority were deported and often returned to Afghanistan in pieces and in pieces, in need of health support, food and rest,” IOM Director-General Antonio Vitorino said in a statement Thursday.
Millions of Afghans crossed into their western neighbor to escape violence and a shattered economy, following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in mid-August, exacerbating the crisis and disrupting international aid flows, as well as severe drought leaving more than half the population in acute need food shortages.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) estimates that as many as 4,000-5,000 Afghans have crossed into Iran daily since the Taliban seized power, and hundreds of thousands are expected to arrive next winter.
Last month, the UN declared that Afghanistan was on the brink of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with more than half of the country facing acute food shortages.
The IOM said Iran has returned 1,031,757 Afghans to their home country so far this year. The UN Migration Agency counted at least 3,200 unaccompanied children among them.
Returning Afghans who spoke to the AFP news agency reported that they were being held in overcrowded, dirty prison camps, where some were beaten before being transported to the border crossing.
“They did not see us as human beings,” said 19-year-old Abdul Samad, who worked in construction in Iran before being deported.
Abdul Samad said he was beaten by Iranian authorities in a migrant prison camp because he had no money to pay for his deportation.
“They tied our hands and blindfolds with pieces of cloth and insulted us,” he said.
Buses arrive at Islam Qala, on the Afghan side of the main border crossing to Iran, every afternoon. AFP interviewed about 20 returned Afghans, all of whom had stories of abuse.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed to all nations to stop the forced return of Afghans given the “very unstable situation” and has continued to “advocate with the Iranian government”.
Iran maintains that it welcomes Afghan refugees, provides the necessary assistance and has sent aid shipments to its neighbor in recent weeks.
Tehran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, was quoted by Iranian media in late October as saying that “we are hosting our Afghan brothers almost without receiving any new resources from the international community”.
“In addition to food, shelter, medicine, and education, we now provide COVID-19 vaccines to refugees while under severe and illegal U.S. sanctions,” he said.
Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi last month urged Afghans not to come to the country because “our capacity is limited,” according to the state-run Tehran Times.
Those who came to the borders were “treated with kindness and respect,” he added.
Iran shares a 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Afghanistan and hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, made up mainly of Afghans who have arrived over the past 40 years.
According to the UNHCR, by 2020, Iran housed more than 3.4 million Afghans, including nearly two million undocumented migrants and 800,000 refugees.
Iran and Pakistan together house about 90 percent of the five million Afghans displaced outside their country.
Afghanistan’s neighbors have called on the international community to do more to financially support the region, which has borne the bulk of its refugee flows.