Iran: Halt Mass Deportation of Afghans

Jun. 20, 2007

Investigate Abuses at Three Detention Centers

(London, June 19, 2007) Iran should immediately halt the mass
deportations of Afghan nationals and investigate allegations that its
authorities have abused numerous deportees, Human Rights Watch said
today. Iran should also ensure that Afghans faced with deportation are
given the individual opportunity to seek protection based on conditions in
Afghanistan that would threaten their lives or freedom, Human Rights
Watch said.

Since late April, the Iranian government has forcibly deported back to
Afghanistan nearly 100,000 registered and unregistered Afghans living
and working in Iran. The Iranian government says the mass deportation is
aimed at reducing the number of illegal immigrants in the country, but
Iranian officials have also expelled Afghans who have been registered
with the authorities, many of whom have been regarded as refugees
(panahandegan) for many years. Iran announced in 2006 that it would
“voluntarily repatriate” all of the more than 1 million Afghans remaining
in Iran by March 2008, saying that none of those people are refugees.

“Iran can deport people who are there illegally, but it has to give them the
chance to contest their deportation or to seek asylum,” said Brad Adams,
Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s against international law to
expel people arbitrarily based on their national origin.”

In February 2007, the Iranian government told the Afghan government
and the United Nations that it intended to regularize foreign migrants on
its soil, and that it would deport en masse undocumented Afghans starting
on April 21, 2007. On April 23, 2007, the Iranian authorities made good
on their announcement when they deported more than 4,000 Afghans
through border crossings with western Afghanistan. However, the Iranian
authorities did not give advance notice to many of the nearly 100,000
Afghans deported in the past 50 days that they would be expelled from

“The failure of the Afghan government and the United Nations to heed
Iran’s warnings has added to the suffering of thousands of Afghans,” said
Adams. “Many of those expelled are living in the desert, short of food,
water and shelter. The Iranians, the Afghan government and the UN
should all be ashamed of themselves.”

Many of the deported Afghans were separated from their families and had
little time to collect their possessions or wages. According to the Afghan
Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), more than 40 percent
of the deportees, most of them children, were separated from their families
after their apprehension.

Nearly all of the recently returned Afghans were forced by the Iranian
authorities to pay for their transportation to the Afghan border, sometimes
at extraordinary cost.

According to the AIHRC, nearly 3,000 Afghan deportees said Iranian
authorities beat them before reaching Afghanistan. The AIHRC also
reported that Iranian authorities are responsible for the deaths of at least
six Afghans. The Iranian police killed one man when they threw him out
of a window while apprehending him. Five other Afghans died in Afghan
hospitals after being deported as a result of injuries inflicted by Iranian

According to accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch, the Iranian
authorities are transferring thousands of Afghans to three holding facilities
near the Iranian-Afghan border before deporting them to Afghanistan. The
three facilities known as Askarabad, Sang-e Safid, and Tal-e Seeya, which
is also known as the “Black Dungeon,” are all veritable prisons. Recent
deportees have told Human Rights Watch that the Iranian authorities
routinely beat Afghans in these locations and force them to pay for their
own food and water. According the AIHRC, Afghans spend between one
and 19 days in these facilities before the authorities deport them back to

Matiullah, who was held in Sang-e Safid for five days, told Human Rights
Watch: “When I arrived at Sang-e Safid, I saw 40 Afghans chained
together inside the prison. They were sitting on the ground with their
hands and ankles shackled. One of the men told me that they had been
shackled together in Shiraz and put in a small bus and brought to Sang-e
Safid. They were shackled together all the way from Shiraz and could not
use the toilet. When I saw them, I thought I was in Guantanamo Bay.”

Not all of the Afghans that went through these facilities were unregistered.
For example, Mehdi, an 18-year-old Afghan, and his family were
registered and legally residing in Iran. In late April, Mehdi and his family
were voluntarily returning to Afghanistan when the Iranian authorities
apprehended them.

“The police stopped our bus outside of Tehran; they were looking for
illegal Afghans,” Mehdi told Human Rights Watch. “When they came to
me, they took me from my family and arrested me. I showed them my
registration paper but they told me they did not care. They said they were
going to take me to Sang-e Safid prison and punish me to make sure that I
would never come back to Iran. I was born there; Tehran was my home.”

Human Rights Watch called on Iran to immediately investigate abuses in
these facilities and to hold to account those responsible for violating the
rights of Afghans in the course of apprehension, detention and deportation.
The government should ensure that repatriation efforts do not result in
separation of families, especially separation of children from their parents.
In addition, advance notice of intent to deport should be given to the
deportees to enable them to put their affairs in order.

Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that Afghans in need of
international protection be given the opportunity to seek it in Iran. This
includes both long-term Afghan residents registered by the authorities as
well as newer arrivals who may have asylum claims but who have not
been allowed to register at all. In all cases, Iran should strictly abide by its
obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention not to return any
person whose life or freedom would be threatened in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch also urgently called on the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) to assess whether conditions inside Afghanistan,
including the prevalence of generalized violence and lack of access for
humanitarian assistance and human rights monitoring, would preclude the
return of Afghans in conditions of safety and dignity with full respect for
their human rights, including their economic, social and cultural rights. In
this context, Human Rights Watch notes a June 11, 2007 UNHCR press
statement, which refers to “worsening security and humanitarian access in
parts of Afghanistan.” Also, on June 12, the International Committee of
the Red Cross director of operations said, “There’s an intensification of
the fighting [in Afghanistan], it has spread to new parts of the country, so
it’s no longer confined to the south.”

Human Rights Watch called upon the UNHCR to refrain from any
cooperation in the government’s repatriation program if Afghan nationals
in Iran whether registered or unregistered are not given the opportunity
to make asylum claims. Finally, Human Rights Watch called upon the
UNHCR to monitor conditions in the Askarabad, Sang-e Safid, and Tal-e
Seeya facilities, to see if potential refugees there are being coerced to
return to unsafe conditions, and to hear potential asylum claims.

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Iran, please visit:

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