Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday, May 8, ordered a "thorough" probe into the drowning of several migrants after Iranian border guards allegedly forced them into a river last week.
Afghan authorities had already been investigating the incident, but Ghani formed a new ten-member team to look into the deaths after eighteen bodies of migrants were recovered, some of them bearing signs of torture, AFP reported.
Officials claim the migrants drowned in the Harirud river while illegally crossing into neighboring Iran from western Herat province.
"President Ashraf Ghani, in a decree issued today, appointed a ten-member team to carry out a thorough investigation into reports about the deaths of several countrymen along the Iranian border," Ghani's office said in a statement on Friday.
Earlier, the governor of a city in Herat province in Afghanistan had maintained that out of 55 Afghan migrants who were forced into the Harirud River, eighteen bodies had been recovered.
"The fate of six is still unknown, while the rest survived," the governor of the city of Gulran in Afghanistan, which borders Iran, Abdul Ghani Noori said.
Hours before the governor's briefing, a member of the Afghan parliament had claimed that 45 out of 57 Afghans who had entered Iran were drowned.
Habibullah Pidram, a representative of Herat province in the Afghan parliament, told Reuters that of the 57 people who were forced to jump into Harirud River, "only 12 survived."
According to Pidram, Iranian border guards detained the 57 Afghan men for 24 hours, and then took them to Harirud banks and forced them at gunpoint to jump into the river.
He also said the bodies of five drowned migrants were discovered in Turkmenistan and pulled out of the river.
Pidram is a member of the sixteen-strong delegation appointed by President Ghani to investigate the incident.
According to Afghan media and several Afghan officials, a group of at least 50 people, mostly residents of Herat province, illegally entered Iran on May 1, through the Zulfiqar border crossing. They were all captured by the Iranian border patrols. A day later, the guards forced the detainees to jump into Harirud at midnight, May 2, they said.
Zulfiqar valley, where the migrants entered Iran, is located on the border of Iran and Afghanistan (as well as Turkmenistan), between the provinces of Herat, in Afghanistan, and Khorasan Razavi in Iran.
Officials in the Islamic Republic have dismissed torturing and drowning Afghan citizens on Iranian soil while expressing regret over the deaths.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that he was shocked by reports of the incident.
Furthermore, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South Asia Alice Wells said on Twitter, "Iran's cruel treatment and abuse of Afghan migrants alleged in these reports are horrifying. Those found guilty of such abuse must be held accountable."
Between 1.5 million and three million Afghan refugees live and work in Iran, most of them as wage laborers on construction projects.
Tens of thousands returned to Afghanistan after the coronavirus outbreak, but as restrictions ease in badly hit Iran, many are again seeking work there.