HERAT: Afghan officials searched for migrants in a river bordering Iran after reports that Iranian border guards tortured dozens and threw them into the water to keep them out of Iran.
Afghan authorities in western Herat province said they retrieved 12 bodies from the Harirud river and at least eight other people were missing.
The incident could trigger a diplomatic crisis between Iran and Afghanistan at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has seen an exodus of Afghan migrants from Iran, with many testing positive. Up to 2,000 Afghans cross the border from Iran into Herat each day.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said an inquiry had been launched. A senior official in the presidential palace in Kabul said initial assessments suggested at least 70 Afghans trying to enter Iran from Herat were beaten and pushed into the Harirud river on Saturday.
Iran has denied the allegations. Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said the incident took place on Afghan soil. “Border guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the occurrence of any events related to this on the soil of our country,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
Governor of Herat’s Gulran district, Abdul Ghani Noori, said dozens of Afghan migrant workers were thrown into the river by members of the Iranian army. Doctors at Herat District Hospital said they had received the bodies of Afghan migrants.
The Taliban said Iran should launch an investigation into the killings and strictly punish the perpetrators. “We have learnt that 57 Afghans on their way to the Islamic Republic of Iran for work were initially tortured by Iranian border guards and 23 of them later brutally martyred,” the Taliban said in a statement.
Afghan officials that it was not the first time that Afghans had been killed by Iranian police guarding the 920-km (520-mile) border. There are at least 541 coronavirus cases from Herat province including thirteen deaths, with the majority of cases Afghans returning from Iran.