By Bagher Ebrahimi
April 10, 2020
When the family arrived at the hospital in Varamin near Tehran, doctors turned him away. Your son is young, they told the parents, and he does not need to be hospitalized. Just quarantine him at home.
The family returned home, and the 22-year-old Afghan migrant died the same night, another patient to be denied treatment and another victim of the coronavirus epidemic in Iran.
“He was running a high fever, was shivering, had a headache and was coughing,” one of the victim’s relatives told IranWire. “We took him to the hospital in Varamin and, after examination and testing, the doctor told us that he had coronavirus, but because he was young we must take him home and quarantine him. The doctor said that young people have a high resistance to coronavirus.”
After being turned away, the family tried desperately to find a hospital that would accept Afghan migrants. They hoped to go to Tehran the next day to find a hospital that would treat him, but the virus took his life that same night. “The government took his body away and said they would bury him themselves,” the relative said. “They did not allow anybody to be there for his burial. We don’t even know where he is buried.”
The coronavirus epidemic is killing Iranian citizens, but it is also threatening the lives of more than three million Afghan immigrants in Iran. According to available statistics, so far at least 50 Afghan migrants have lost their lives to coronavirus — and a number of them have died after hospitals refused to accept them.
Information IranWire has received from Afghan migrants who have returned from Iran to their homeland indicate that different hospitals treat Afghans differently. Hospitals in various cities, including Qom and Shahriar, offer treatment to migrants infected with coronavirus. But some hospitals have refused to hospitalize Afghan migrants infected with coronavirus, while other hospitals do accept them, but only after demanding exuberant sums of money.
Six Times what Iranians Have to Pay
Heydar Sharifi is one Afghan migrant who received treatment for coronavirus at Imam Sajjad Hospital, a government hospital in Shahriar, for a week. He says he had to pay six times what Iranian patients have to pay. “I was in this hospital from March 9 to March 17,” Sharifi said. “The two nurses in the hospital treated me like family.” There were a few other Afghans in the hospitals as well, he said.
According to Sharifi, he had to pay the hospital 2.954 million tomans, close to US$200, before he was taken in as a patient. Since he did not have the money outright, he had to spend several hours waiting to be hospitalized while he arranged to borrow the money from friends.
Another Afghan migrant who asked to remain anonymous told IranWire that when a middle-aged member of his family in Tehran was infected with coronavirus they took him to the hospital but hospital officials told them they would not take him in because he was a migrant. The family then took the patient to Qom because they had heard from other Afghans that Qom hospitals were accepting Afghan patients, but the two hospitals they went to told them they had no free beds. The same night the Afghan national died and, as in the previous case, he was buried at an unknown location without his family being informed.
“The hospital in Tehran did not accept one of our townspeople,” Erfan Azimi, an Afghan citizen, wrote on his Facebook page. “They took him to Qom [but] he passed way. They [the Iranian government] have been treating the migrants badly and [the migrants’] conditions have become worse by the day. But God is very just.”
Whether Afghan migrants infected with coronavirus are accepted by hospitals and how much they have to pay for treatment is not the same across all hospitals in Iran. According to some Afghans, the holy city of Mashhad is more friendly to migrants and offers them medical services for free.
Alireza Ashnagar, the governor of Semnan province, says many migrants are choosing not to go to the hospital because they are being charged such huge amounts of money. He suggested that migrant coronavirus patients be treated for free. Eventually, a month after Iran officially announced the coronavirus outbreak, President Hassan Rouhani accepted this proposal.
Still, it is not known for sure how many Afghan migrants have lost their lives to the virus, or how reliable official statistics are. The Islamic Republic has often made promises to improve the lives of migrants, but these promises are not always kept. Years ago, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ordered Iranian schools to accept Afghan migrant children, but schools turned away huge numbers of them, and today some of these children of migrants continue to be deprived of an education. Instead, every year, many of these children join the ranks of child laborers.