Afghans alarmed by Iran’s possible move to expel refugees

A group of Afghan migrant workers enter Afghan territory after leaving Iran at the Islam Qala border in Herat province November 5, 2012. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 13 May 2019

Afghans alarmed by Iran’s possible move to expel refugees

  • There are around 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran
  • Analysts believe Tehran is using the issue to make US soften sanctions

KABUL: Afghans expressed concern on Sunday about the implications of a move by neighboring Iran to deport nearly 3 million Afghan refugees from its soil if Washington toughens its sanctions against Tehran. 

Faced by the threat of a new wave of US sanctions, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi warned recently that if further sanctions were to be imposed — which would impair the export of Iran’s oil — then it would be forced to “request our Afghan brothers and sisters to leave Iran.” 

Araqchi’s comments have created concern among government officials and locals in Afghanistan, where Washington’s sanctions last year pushed up prices and affected trade.

Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, the Afghan minister for repatriation of refugees, said in comments posted on his Facebook page that Araqchi’s remarks were uncalculated, “provocative and in contradiction with international commitments.”

Sayed Abdul Basit Ansari, a spokesman for Balkhi, said Kabul “hoped that Iran will not resort to such a move despite the fact that ties between Iran and the US are not good and will possibly further deteriorate.”

“If such a thing happens, it is natural that it will be in direct violation of refugees laws,” Ansari told Arab News.

“When 3 million refugees come back all of a sudden, it is clear that there will be a crisis since they will need shelter, work and it will cause a big challenge for the government in terms of insecurity and poverty.”

He said Iran has not officially informed Afghanistan about any possible plan for expelling the refugees.

He said that Kabul would raise the matter with authorities in Tehran either by dispatch of a delegation or officially when and if the Islamic Republic officially announces that it will throw out the refugees.

He hoped Iran would not damage its historical and traditional ties with Afghanistan.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees living in Iran have access to jobs and some of them even send home some money for their families.

“My uncle has been living in Iran for 19 years now. His kids go to school there and he has a good job and settled well there,” said Barakat Ali, an Afghan in Kabul.

“If Iran implements the exodus policy, then it will be difficult for people like my uncle to find a job here and put up with other shortcomings here,” he told Arab News.

Imam Dad, a 40-year-old laborer in Kabul who has at least 20 relatives living in Iran said: “Afghanistan has no resources to address the needs of those who have returned from Pakistan and Iran in recent years, as well as the internally displaced people, and the possible exodus from Iran will mean a new wave of disaster for its people and government.”

Fazl Ahmad Orya, an analyst, told Arab News that Iran was using the “expulsion of refugees as a means of putting pressure on the Afghan government, so it encourages America not to further toughen the sanctions against Iran.”

But analyst Zubair Shafiqi disagreed, saying that ties between Washington and President Ashraf Ghani’s government were not smooth, and that Kabul no longer has the influence or leverage to persuade the US to avoid broadening sanctions.

Orya said the Afghan refugees living in Iran, who are mostly either Shiites or Hazaras, largely followers of the same sect, were “actually a good asset for Tehran for its war in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.”

“Iran is also possibly using the expulsion issue in order to gain funds from refugee agencies, but if Iran’s economy gets hurt by the sanctions, then the Afghans there will have no jobs either and will come home,” Orya said.

Shafiqi said Ghani’s government was “weak and inefficient, and the expulsion would cause catastrophe for society and the government. America neither listens to Ghani’s government and nor thinks about the fate of the Afghan refugees, it does what it wants,” he told Arab News.

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

Updated 29 min 34 sec ago

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

  • Reports are credible, expert tells Arab News
  • Hospitals report spike in burns victims

ANKARA: Accusations that Turkey has used banned incendiary weapons against civilians in its invasion of northern Syria are credible, a leading security analyst told Arab News on Saturday.

Kurdish leaders said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fighter jets had dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus on civilian targets in the border town of Ras Al-Ain, a key objective for Turkish troops.

“The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras Al-Ain,” the Kurdish administration said. “Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned, such as phosphorus and napalm.”

Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for New American Security, told Arab News: “There are now multiple credible reports that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its campaign in northeast Syria, and especially against the stubborn defenders of the city of Ras Al-Ain.”

The attacks on Ras Al-Ain are being investigated by UN chemical weapons inspectors, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Human Rights Watch. 

OPCW said it had “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” and its inspectors were monitoring the situation.


  • Erdogan’s jets ‘dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus in Ras Al-Ain.’
  • The attacks are being probed by UN chemical weapons inspectors and Human Rights Watch.
  • A video posted on social media shows children with burns that a doctor says were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

If the use of banned incendiary weapons were proved, it would be a grave violation of Turkey’s pledge to wage war with concern for civilian lives, Heras said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a spike in burn wounds treated at the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras Al-Ain area. 

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six people were being treated in hospital for burns. 

Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns that one doctor in Hasakeh province said were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the UK newspaper The Times that the burns appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus.

The substance may be used to create a smoke screen, or as a battlefield marker, especially at night, but its use as an incendiary weapon is prohibited under international law.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Dr. Willem Theo Oosterveld, a senior fellow at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said the deployment of white phosphorus was not explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, he said, under humanitarian law “the use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited.”