Just last week, Afghanistan’s Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, stated that at least 10 Afghans living in Iran as refugees have died from coronavirus. That number is likely to be higher as of now.
Afghan Refugees in Iran Refused Coronavirus Treatment in Hospitals
Amidst Iran’s horrifying toll from the Coronavirus comes even more worrying news – the enormous number of Afghan refugees in the country, already stigmatized and denied numerous human rights within the country, are reportedly being refused treatment for COVID-19.
With hospitals already overrun with patients, Afghan refugees and migrants are reportedly being told they cannot be treated, as Iranian citizens must come first. Just last week, Afghanistan’s Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, stated that at least 10 Afghans living in Iran as refugees have died from Coronavirus. That number is likely to be higher as of now.
With more than 3 million Afghans living as refugees and migrants in Iran, the situation amidst the growing Coronavirus pandemic seems to only be worsening. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), almost 20,000 Afghans have left Iran and entered back into Afghanistan again during the first week of March – most likely because of the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping Iran.
However the IOM have now reported that as of last week, that number has grown to almost 55,000 as Afghans continue to flee Iran into Afghanistan. According to sources on the ground, Iran’s long history of inadequate attention towards these refugees is a huge factor in this mass migration.
Rafih, an Afghan writer based in Kabul whose family lives in Iran’s capital of Tehran, spoke to Middle East Eye about his own family’s deteriorating health during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic in Iran. After trying to get his elderly grandmother to be tested in the hospital, he reports that his family was given almost no help whatsoever:
[We were told] ‘We can’t treat her … we have too many of our own Iranian patients…don’t bring Afghans to us’. [My family] can’t come here [to Kabul] and we can’t go there [to Iran] either. No one knows what to do.”
As Iran continues to suffer as one of the worst-hit countries with COVID-19, the Afghan refugees within the country continue to suffer under deteriorating conditions. As many flee back into Afghanistan, they bring with them possible transmissions of the virus itself – according to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, all of the country’s 22 Coronavirus cases have come from Afghans who had either spent time in or come from Iran directly.
While Iran has a history of maltreatment towards minority groups and refugees within the country, the harsh sanctions imposed on the country by the US has played a decisive factor – the US led sanctions on Iran continues to impact those most innocent, as Iran continues to struggle with the low amount of supplies, medicine, and sanitary equipment needed to help combat the virus.
It remains to be seen how Iran will continue to treat the growing number of those with the virus, and as of now, people like Rafih continue to suffer under layers of maltreatment at both a domestic and international level.