KABUL: Kabul sent its envoy to Tehran, Ghafoor Liwal, to Iran’s Yazd province on Saturday after reports that at least three Afghan refugees died in a car which was allegedly fired at by Iranian police in the area, officials told Arab News.
“Our ambassador has traveled to Yazd province to probe this incident in the face of reports that Iranian police fired at a car carrying these Afghans,” said Gran Hewad, chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Wednesday’s incident could add to rising tensions between the two countries following Kabul’s recent allegation that 13 Afghan migrants had drowned on May 1 when Iranian border guards forced the group into a river at gunpoint.
In a video message posted on the ministry’s website on Friday evening, Liwal said that at least 13 people were in the car when the latest incident took place.
The envoy said he was “seriously working” to determine the circumstances of the incident and also would investigate the drowning claim.
Liwal said Ahmad Tarahumi Bahabadi, deputy governor of Yazd, had confirmed that Iranian police had opened fire on the vehicle after it failed to stop when asked.
“Apparently, this car was used by a human trafficker and was carrying a number of our countrymen. They were confronted by the police, who instructed them to stop, but they did not stop. Police fired on the car and as a result of the shooting a tire was hit,” Liwal said, adding that the vehicle continued to be driven at full speed until the “tire burst and the car caught fire.”
A statement said that the Afghan delegation, led by Liwal, would identify the victims and the wounded. “Survivors in the hospital told us that they had informed the driver about the fire, but unfortunately he did not stop and continued to drive until the car crashed, killing three and severely wounding others,” Liwal said.
The Iranian Embassy in Kabul could not be reached for comment when contacted by Arab News.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Zabihullah Farhang, told Arab News that the agency had heard about the incident but could not investigate because it had taken place in Iran.
AIHRC chief Sharzad Akbar called for the public release of Iran’s investigation into the drowning of the Afghan migrants and demanded a probe of the latest case.
“The incident in Yazd that led to the burning of passengers in a car needs to be investigated and perpetrators need to be held accountable,” she said in a tweet on Saturday. “Human lives matter. Refugees rights are human rights,” she added. Iran is home to nearly 3 million Afghans, both legal refugees and illegal immigrants. Afghans often use illegal smuggling routes along the 900 km border to travel to Iran in search of work.
However, since the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, where more than 8,000 people have died from the disease, tens of thousands of Afghans have returned home.
Several videos of Wednesday’s incident – shared on social media platforms and viewed by hundreds – show a car ablaze, with a burning body in its boot.
The video received widespread condemnation in Afghanistan, with the hashtag “bring me water I am burning” trending on Saturday.
It follows a video showing a young boy near the vehicle begging for water.
“This is becoming more ugly... complete violation of too many laws & rules... shameful,” Orzala Nimat, a researcher, tweeted on Friday night.
Jalal Barakzay, a 21-year-old university student, wrote on Facebook that Kabul “should hold Iran accountable” for the incident and “other abuses committed by Iran against Afghan refugees.”
In recent years, Iran and Afghanistan have had an uneasy relationship, with Kabul accusing Tehran of using Afghan Shiite migrants to fight proxy wars in the Middle East, as well as providing cash and arms to Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government and US-led troops in Afghanistan.
“I do not know what sort of steps Kabul will take if it is proven that Iranian police had deliberately carried this out, but relations will become more abnormal than in the past,” said Taj Mohammad, an analyst, adding that public anger was growing over the number of incidents.
“People are angry, the government in Kabul is under pressure from the public because this is the second reported incident against Afghans in Iran in just over a month,” he added.