Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Iran forces out Afghan laborers by the thousands


Dumped at a frontier outpost alongside hundreds of weary Afghan laborers, Khalil Jalil stepped out of Iran and back into Afghanis-tan only days after he said Iranian authorities beat him, threw him in the trunk of a car and locked him in a detention center.

The 23-year-old's violent ejection was part of a broad Iranian crackdown on illegal Afghan migrants that has pushed more than 100,000 deportees across the border the past two months, leaving hundreds of Afghan families stranded without shelter and straining the impoverished country's resources.

Like Jalil, many of the deportees come with stories of abuse: Men beaten so badly that their legs and collarbones were broken and legal refugees whose government-issued cards were cut into pieces by police.

Iran has denied the allegations of abuse and said it has forced laborers back home because the 1.5 million undocumented Afghan migrants are an enormous burden on its economy.

As a result, about 2,000 Afghans a day have been sent out of Iran, where many sought better jobs or a stable home outside war-torn Afghanistan. Most are men, but entire families were kicked out as well.

At the Islam Qala border crossing, about 120km west of Herat, Afghanistan, 1,200 people have been flowing back into Afghanistan a day. Some carried suitcases, but several wore their work uniforms and were penniless, not having had a chance to collect their salaries or savings.

One man had only crumbling bits of stale bread, a small bottle of water and another of soda tied up in a tattered black scarf.

Iran has sent undocumented Afghans home every year and announced these deportations in advance. But the numbers have been staggering, with more than 100,000 deported the past two months compared with 146,387 deported in all of last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Jalil entered Afghanistan wearing a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, the only possessions he could grab after two men in army uniforms and two in plainclothes woke him up with kicks and punches.

"They yelled at us, `Get out, Afghan trash!'" Jalil said, describing how he was handcuffed to another laborer and thrown in the trunk of a green sedan.

He had lived in Iran for seven years and his parents and siblings were still there.

They had entered with passports and visas but stayed on after their documents expired.

Like many interviewed here, Jalil said he paid his own US$11 bus fare to be deported. Others said they bribed authorities to be deported immediately rather than being locked up in filthy, overcrowded detention centers.

"It is not how humans treat other humans. The rooms were full, so they put us in the bathrooms," said Nabiullah Jamshidy, 28, who had been deported after living in Iran for 14 years.

Noor Ahmad Mohammadi, who performs medical checkups at the border, said that in the past month he has seen about seven deportees severely beaten, with broken collarbones, legs, arms and stitches on their faces.

Iranian authorities "are behaving very badly with the deportees," said a UNHCR official in Islam Qala. "Maltreatment is common, and abuses for all of them."

Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan dismissed the allegations as "propaganda and rumors," but said the government would respond to any documented claims.

"We believe there are huge rumors inside Afghanistan because many Afghan refugees don't want to return to their country. They mention many things, but most of them are not reality," Ambassador Mohammad Bahrami said.

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