Mon, 23 May 2022

Kabul [Afghanistan], May 4 (ANI): Afghans who sought refuge in Iran in the wake of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, are increasingly facing a risk of deportation by the Iranian authorities, amid the rising tensions at the desert border between the two countries, a media report said.

Following the Taliban takeover of Kabul last year, the 960-kilometre long border with Iran became a lifeline for Afghans who piled into smugglers' pickups in desperate search of money and work, Frontier Post reported.

In recent weeks, however, the desert crossing, long a dangerous corner of the world, has become a growing source of tension as an estimated 5,000 Afghans traverse it each day, the report said.

In past weeks, skirmishes have been reported between Taliban and Iranian border guards, who already were not on good terms to start with.

Recently, Afghans in three cities rallied against Iran with demonstrators hurling stones and setting fires outside an Iranian Consulate, the report said.

A fatal stabbing spree, allegedly by an Afghan migrant, at Iran's holiest shrine, sent shockwaves through the country. Even as both nations do not want an escalation, long-smouldering hostilities risk spiralling out of control, the report said citing political analysts.

"You have one of the world's worst-simmering refugee crises just chugging along on a daily pace and historical enmity," Andrew Watkins, senior Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace was quoted as saying. "Earthquakes will happen," he added.

However, the perils are personal for Afghans slipping across the border, the report said.

Since the Taliban takeover, Iran has escalated its deportations of Afghan migrants, according to the UN migration agency, warning that its sanctions-hit economy cannot handle the influx.

In the first three months of this year, Iran's deportations jumped 60 per cent each month, the report said, citing Ashley Carl, deputy chief of the agency's Afghanistan mission.

Many of the 251,000 who returned from Iran this year bear the wounds and scars of the arduous trip, Carl said, surviving car accidents, gunshots and other travails.

Roshangol Hakimi, a 35-year-old who fled to Iran after the Taliban takeover, said smugglers held her and her 9-year-old daughter hostage for over a week until her relatives paid a ransom, the report said.

"They would feed us with polluted water and hard, stale bread," Hakimi said, adding, "We were dying."The lucky ones land in the jumble of Tehran, squeezing into dank and crowded alleyways of the city, the report said, adding that, Iran estimates at least a million Afghans have sought refuge in the country over the last eight months.

These Afghans, who are now in Tehran are stuck in limbo, the report said, citing the example of Husseini, who had fled to Iran with her two small children, trekking by foot, motorcycle and truck until reaching Iran.

Husseini lives in legal limbo, vulnerable to harassment and exploitation, her boss at the tailor's shop refuses to pay her salary while her landlord threatens to kick her out.

Husseini can barely cobble together enough cash to feed her children, the report said.

"We have nothing and nowhere to go," she said from a cramped room in southern Tehran, furnished with just a donated gas heater, chairs and a few velour blankets.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh lamented last month that "waves of displaced Afghans cannot continue to Iran" because Iran's "capacities are limited," the report said.

Iran's youth unemployment hovers over 23 per cent. Iran's currency, the rial, has shrivelled to less than 50 per cent of its value since 2018, the report further said.

Iran has grown more anxious as a string of bloody attacks in Afghanistan targeting the country's minority Hazara Shiites makes clear that extremist threats proliferate despite Taliban promises to provide security, the report added.

The neighbours nearly came to blows last week when Taliban guards tried to pave a new road across the border. Iranian guards went on high alert and the vital crossing was closed, the report said, adding that, aware of the stakes, the countries are vigorously pursuing diplomacy. (ANI)

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