Afghans living in Isfahan were banned from a mountainous park in the city on April 1, the 13th day of Norouz festivities, which Iranian tradition says should be spent outdoors.
The decision was announced on March 30 by Isfahan’s Committee to Facilitate Travel, which said Afghans were banned from Sofeh Park in order "to ensure citizens' welfare."
Ahmad Reza Shafiei, an official with Travel Committee's police department, was quoted as saying that the reason for the move was "the extensive presence of Afghans" at the park in previous years and "the creation of insecurities for families." By that, he meant Iranian families.
But it was Iranians who quickly condemned the decision on Facebook and other social media.
"I am also an Afghan," some wrote as their Facebook status update. Others slammed the decision as "racist" and an "insult" to Afghans living in Iran.
There was also a report of a symbolic protest on April 1 at Sofeh Park.
A picture widely shared on Facebook
shows three young men holding signs decrying racism, including one that says, "I am also an Afghan."
This isn't the first time Afghans in Iran have faced discrimination. There are reportedly more than 1 million Afghan refugees and thousands of illegal Afghan migrants in the Islamic republic.
Many of them moved to Iran following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. Others sought refuge in Iran after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.
In recent years, reports of mistreatment of Afghans -- particularly against those who enter Iran illegally -- have increased.
A YouTube video
making the rounds shows a group of Afghans being mistreated, apparently by Iranian soldiers, who tell the Afghans to hit themselves on the head, perform sit-ups, and say aloud, “We will never come to Iran anymore.”
Iranian officials are quick to remind critics that the Islamic republic has been a generous host for more than 2 million Afghan refugees for two decades, with little help from the international community.
But in recent years, Afghans who have entered Iran illegally have been forcefully deported. Some who still live in Iran say they face legal discrimination and restrictions on their right to study and access public places.
Some Iranians blame Afghans for the spread of crime and drugs while others accuse them of stealing jobs at a time of soaring unemployment.
Despite the difficulties, there are still reports of many Afghans returning to Iran in search of menial jobs that usually hold little appeal to Iranians.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari