HERAT -- Afghan authorities have recovered 18 bodies of migrants who were allegedly beaten and tortured before being forced into a river by Iranian border guards last week, a senior Afghan official said Friday (May 8).
Afghan officials are investigating claims that the migrants drowned while illegally crossing into neighbouring Iran from Herat Province. The incident happened on May 1, local media reported.
"Out of 55 Afghan migrants who were forced into the river, we have so far recovered 18 bodies," Abdul Ghani Noori, the governor of Gulran District bordering Iran, told AFP.
Six migrants are still missing while others survived, said Noori.
The bodies "bear signs of beating and torture", Noori said.
"Based on the accounts of survivors and the marks on the bodies of the victims, they were first lashed with wire cables by the Iranian border guards and then forced at gunpoint to jump into the river," he said.
The Iranian guards made the migrants cross the Harirod River, and "as a result a number of them drowned", the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission said last week.
Iranian authorities have dismissed the claims, saying the incident occurred inside Afghanistan's territory.
The United States has backed the Kabul government's decision to investigate the incident.
"Iran's cruel treatment and abuse of Afghan migrants alleged in these reports is horrifying," outgoing US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells said on Twitter earlier this week.
"Those found guilty of such abuse must be held accountable," she added.
Between 1.5 million and 3 million Afghan refugees are living and working in Iran, most of them as wage labourers 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.