The United States, via its embassy in Kabul, said it was " concerned " Tuesday by reports that Afghan migrants turned back by Iranian border guards drowned while crossing a river. " We share the concerns of the Afghan government, civil society and the public regarding reports of killings and mistreatment of Afghan migrants along the border with Iran, " the embassy wrote on Twitter.
Read also: Afghanistan: investigation after the deaths of migrants drowned on the Iranian border
The Afghan government opened an investigation on Saturday allegedly the day before: several dozen Afghans, coming from Herat province, in western Afghanistan, and having illegally crossed the Iranian border, claim to have been forced by the Iranian border guards to cross a river separating the two countries, in which some have drowned. This Kabul decision to initiate an investigation was supported by the United States Embassy, against the backdrop of extreme tensions between Washington and Tehran.
" Iran's cruel treatment and alleged mistreatment of Afghan migrants is horrible, " said Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary of state for South Asia, also on Twitter. " Those found guilty of such mistreatment will be held accountable, " she said.
Kabul on Monday also called on Iran to launch its own investigation into the incident and to share the information gathered with the Afghan government. Iran, however, denied the information on Sunday, citing an " incident (...) that occurred on Afghan soil ". The Afghan Human Rights Commission said on Sunday it spoke with survivors who accused Iranian forces of hitting and torturing them.
" They had to cross the Hari Rud river, some of them drowned and some survived, " the commission said in a statement. A government official speaking on condition of anonymity said seven migrants were dead and 30 missing, according to survivors who returned to Herat.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 3.5 million Afghans, including just under a million refugees, live in Iran. Tens of thousands have returned to Afghanistan since the start of the Covid-19 disease pandemic, but as restrictions have been relaxed in Iran, many are trying to return.