Thousands of Afghan refugees re-enter Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran, in western Herat Province, March 18, 2020. (AP)

April 1, 2020

While other nations have sealed their borders with Iran to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Afghanistan said on Monday that it would keep its main crossings open as, otherwise, returnees would reenter through illegal routes, increasing the risk of contamination.

“The fundamental problem is the unofficial crossing points … the reason the border is open allows us to check people who come through, since we have medical measures in place for checking all, and can separate and quarantine those who are affected,” Faisal Javid, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, told Arab News.

He added that if the official routes were sealed, people would use illegal crossings and “anyone contaminated” could enter the country undetected.

“Therefore, for the time being, the decision is to keep the border open,” Javid said.

So far, 141 people have tested positive for the virus in Afghanistan, with at least four deaths reported in the past month, officials told Arab News on Monday.

They added that the virus was brought to Afghanistan by economic migrants fleeing Iran for two significant reasons.

“When the outbreak began in Iran, Afghan economic migrants started to flee, what with joblessness in Iran and the state of the economy,” a ministry official, requesting anonymity, told Arab News on Monday.

On average, at least 10,000 refugees have returned from Iran to Afghanistan every day over the past month through the official border crossing in western Herat province, Abdul Basit Ansari, a spokesman for the Ministry of Repatriations of Refugees, told Arab News.

“The returnees are largely coming home voluntarily, while a few are forced to return,” he added.

Due to the vast border which Afghanistan shares with Iran, the returnees have been using two official crossings to enter the country. Closing them is out of the question, officials said.

“Suppose if we closed the border — these people would have come in big numbers (with the help of) human traffickers via illegal routes that would have caused far more positive cases, danger and deaths in Afghanistan,” Waheed Mayar, a Public Health Ministry spokesman, told Arab News.

The main official crossing point leads to the Herat province in western Afghanistan, which has become the area worst affected by COVID-19.

Javid said authorities, for their part, had increased preventive measures which include checking all returnees and isolating those affected by the virus.

“We have increased precautionary measures along the border with Iran to fight the spread of COVID-19, but the main challenge is the illegal crossings. We are assessing the situation closely and will make new decisions as things evolve in the coming days and weeks,” he told Arab News.

As an additional measure, authorities have extended the lockdown in Herat by three more weeks, with Monday being the third day since the curfew was enforced in Kabul, too.

The move, however, has failed to allay the fears of residents who said they were worried about their future.

“We are concerned about the spread of the virus. We know it is a global issue, which came from China to Iran and from there to here … These Afghans went to Iran for survival or economic needs. Now, they are fleeing Iran for Afghanistan to remain alive and do not know if they are contaminated,” Fateh Shah, a shopkeeper in Kabul, said, adding: “All we can do is to pray and take measures not to get affected.”

Arab News

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.