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Migration Crisis on Afghanistan-Iran Line

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The wars stamped the last half century, instability, and the results of them, which are unemployment and poverty caused the people of the region to migrate to other countries. In that sense, the first destination that Afghans migrated is Iran. Being a neighbor to Afghanistan, hosting the relatives of Afghan immigrants, and sharing similar culture with Afghanistan caused the escalation of migration to that country. Besides Iran is a route country for the ones who aimed to arrive at Europe. Therefore, when there is an instability in Afghanistan, the migration to Iran also increases.

Afghanistan Ministry of Immigration Affairs has declared that before Taliban captured Kabul, the number of Afghans staying in Iran was 2,5 million.[1] After Taliban became the hegemon again, due to security apprehension and economic problems, around 1 million Afghan citizen has moved to Iran. There is not a specific information about the number of Afghans in Iran. Yet, Iranian officials claimed that there are 5 million Afghan immigrants stay in the country.[2]

In the first years of migration, Iranians warmly welcomed the Afghans. Even some of the Iranian officials has highlighted that Afghans are special for the development of the country. Besides, it is known that Iran uses Afghan immigrants as a militia and use them in the proxy wars in the Middle East. For instance, Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has wage war between Liwa Fatemiyoun, created by Shi’a Hazaras, and terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS). But, due to sanctions Iran’s economy was regressed and Afghans were seen as the source of the problems of economic and social problems.

On April 5, 2022, a person living in the city of Mashhad, Iran, has attacked with knife 3 Iranian and then 2 of them have lost their lives, 1 is wounded. In the statement of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the issue, he claimed that the responsible of the incident was “takfiri movement”, and the imperialists and factious are trying to destroy the relations of Iranian people with their neighbors due to religious and sectional views, yet they will not let it to happen.

Although Tehran administration did not declare the name of the attacker, the press institutions closer to the Iranian Governments has declared that the attacker was an Afghan citizen and they were arrived in Iran through Pakistan a year ago.[3] Taliban’s spokesperson Zabihollah Mudjahid has shared his message on social media, saying that Taliban Islamic Emirate condemns the attack in Iran and this issue is not related to Afghanistan or the Afghans.[4]

After the incident, Iranian nationalists, who sees the immigrants as the source of economic and social problems, act against Afghans. Moreover, Iranian security forces applied violence and pressure against Afghans and tried to deport Afghans as groups. According to some videos shared in social media, there is an Afghanophobic atmosphere in Iran. In some of the videos, Iranians are insulting the Afghan refugees and forcing them to insult their homelands and their people. This situation causes Afghan people and Taliban administration to react negatively.

Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs Amir Khan Muttaqi has met with Iran’s Ambassador to Kabul, after the Afghans faced torture in Iran. In the meeting, Muttaqi has said that the battery against Afghan immigrants should stop, and those incidents will affect the relations negatively. In addition, Muttaqi has highlighted that continuation of the incident will cause the enemy to sow discord among them. Ambassador of Iran, on the other hand, clarified that their country is not intended to rebuke Afghan refugees and Muttaqi’s message will be delivered to Tehran.[5]

Iran’s Embassy to Kabul has clarified that videos on social media is shared to destroy the relations between Iranian and Afghan people, and Iranian people’s attitude towards Afghan people will not be grounded on. The Embassy defined the immigrants entering to Iran in illegal ways caused Tehran administration’s infringement of legitimacy. Besides, the Embassy of Iran has claimed that the videos were prepared by Mujahidin-e Khalq Organization (MEK).[6] However, Tehran administration’s denial of the incident was not enough to soothe the reaction of the Afghan people. Thus, in the various cities of Afghanistan, the Afghans held demonstrations for demanding respect of the refugee rights from Iran. In that sense, the protestors in the city of Herat of Afghanistan, has set afire the door of the building of Embassy of Iran and lashed the building.

When anti-Iran demonstrations have started in Afghanistan, Iran Ministry of Foreign Affairs also called Charge d’Affairs of Afghanistan to Tehran to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they expressed their concerns on the incident happened in the Iranian Consulate General Herat. After that, Iran’s Spokesperson of the Foreign Minister Saeed Khatibzadeh has demanded assurance from Taliban primarily for Iranian Embassy in Kabul, and other diplomatic centers. Besides, primarily Iranian Embassy in Kabul, and all diplomatic missions has stopped their activities.[7] The main reason why Iran demanded assurance from Taliban is that they were afraid of repetition of the past incident. As it can be remembered, in 1998, when Taliban captured Mazar-i-Sharif, 11 Iranian diplomats and journalist were killed. Today, on the one hand, there was a concern about a similar incident would happen after the torture of Iranians to Afghans.

Although all concerns, both sides do not want to deepen the problem and tries to take the crisis under control. In that sense, Iranian President Raisi has showed solidarity with Afghan people by preparing iftar for the Afghan students. However, many Iranian officials said that Afghans are guests in their country and their safety will be ensured. Taliban officials also announced that the attack on Iran’s Herat Consulate General took place without their knowledge and that they intervened in the events.

At this point, it should be noted that; the escalation of tension is to the detriment of both parties. If Iran starts to forcibly return the Afghans in its country, it can be said that this will cause economic, political, and security-based problems in Afghanistan. Because people in Iran also work and send money to their families. If immigrants return to Afghanistan, there is a possibility that these people will not be able to find a job. In this scenario, there are possibilities that many people will turn to producing drugs or join radical terrorist organizations, especially ISIS, which are opponents of the Taliban. On the other hand, anti-Iran rhetoric and actions will increase in Afghanistan. It can be argued that this will serve the interests of ISIS. Because ISIS does not see Shiites as Muslims and attracts Afghans to its side through anti-Iran propaganda. Therefore, the deepening of the crisis may lead to a process that will extend to sectarian conflicts.

Moreover, if the crisis escalates, it is possible for Iran to tacitly increase its support for the Panshir Movement and do so without cover. This will mean activating the dynamic of the civil war in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the Taliban can use the Water Problem to put the Tehran administration in a difficult situation. In addition, the Taliban may begin to engage with Riyadh and Washington. This may reveal a geopolitical picture that Iran does not want.

As a result, there may be tensions between neighboring states at various times. Currently, such a crisis is taking place on the Kabul-Tehran line. However, the parties are aware that the problem can only be resolved with a prudent approach and the risks that will arise if tensions escalate.

[1] “ایران چند میلیون مهاجر افغان دارد؟”, Online Ekonomi, https://l24.im/j7QeSL, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

[2] “امیرعبداللهیان: پنج میلیون پناهنده افغان در ایران هستند”, Deutche Welle, https://l24.im/KyQ725l, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

[3] “حمله با چاقو در مشهد؛ مقام‌های ایران ‘جریان تکفیری’ را مسئول حمله می‌دانند”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-61011030, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

[4] “واکنش طالبان به حمله به ۳ روحانی در حرم رضوی”, İktisat Dünyası, https://l24.im/6An, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

[5] “متقی در دیدار با سفیر ایران: بدرفتاری با مهاجران افغان متوقف شود”, Afganistan İnternitonal, https://www.afintl.com/202204107643, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

[6] “سفیر ایران: حلقه‌هایی به دنبال تیره‌گی روابط کابل – تهران استند”, Tolo News, https://tolonews.com/fa/afghanistan-177512, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

[7] “خطیب‌زاده: امنیت کامل سفارت‌خانه و دیگر مکان‌های دیپلماتیک ایران در افغانستان تأمین شود”, 8am, https://8am.af/khatibzadeh-ensure-full-security-of-the-iranian-embassy-and-other-diplomatic-missions-in-afghanistan/, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2022).

Ahmad Khan DAWLATYAR
Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar, 2013 yılında Kunduz Üniversitesi Hukuk ve Siyaset Bilimi Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Siyaset Bilimi Anabilim Dalı’nda “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti ve Afganistan İslam Cumhuriyeti Anayasalarında Güçler Ayrılığı İlkesi Üzerine Karşılaştırmalı Bir Analiz” başlıklı teziyle 2019 yılında almıştır. Çeşitli bilimsel etkinliklere katılan Dawlatyar, Afganistan sorunuyla ilgili bildiriler ve makaleler sunmuştur. Bu kapsamda “Afganistan Sorununun Dini ve İdeolojik Nedenleri” başlıklı sunumu yayınlanmıştır. Halihazırda Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. ANKASAM bünyesinde yürütülen çalışmalara katkıda bulunan Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Dawlatyar, anadil seviyesinde Farsça, Özbekçe, Türkçe ve Peştunca dillerine hakimdir. Ayrıca orta düzeyde İngilizce bilmektedir.