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Afghan Migrant Boy's Rough Treatment In Iran Sparks Outrage

Iranians protest discrimination against members of the country's embattled Afghan migrant community. (file photo)

A man interrupts his cellphone conversation when he spots a young boy seemingly tampering with a locked donation box at the entrance to a shrine.

After grabbing him and putting away his phone, the man thrashes the youth several times before flinging him to a hard landing on the pavement outside. The shaken child scrambles up and scurries off, snatching up his lost shoe on the way.

The 40-second video, captured on a security camera on July 19 and shared widely this week on social media, purportedly shows an Iranian man's rough treatment of a young Afghan migrant outside a Shi'ite shrine in the southwestern Iranian town of Abdan, in Bushehr Province.

Since the video was first uploaded on July 21, local authorities have condemned the incident and pledged to bring legal proceedings against the man.

The case has rekindled a long-running debate about the treatment of Iran's sizable Afghan community.

Officials in Kabul have long complained of abuse and discrimination against the estimated 1 million Afghan migrants and refugees in Iran.

Iranian state media identified the adult as Akbar Mohammadi, a member of the board of trustees at Imamzadeh Mir Behzad, the Abdan shrine. So-called imamzadehs are sanctums in Iran where descendants of Shi'ite Islam's most revered imams are said to have been buried.

Mohammadi has since apologized to the boy's family.

But his casual brutality has prompted anger among Afghans on social media and provoked demands for action from Kabul.

'Bring The Offender To Justice'

Seyyed Abdul Rassul Hosseini, the head of the Abdan Islamic Council, said on July 22 that Mohammadi "regretted" his actions and had apologized to the child's family in person, according to Iran's official government news agency IRNA.

IRNA later published a photo that it said showed Mohammadi sitting alongside the boy's male relatives in their home. It said the boy's family would not press charges.

Mostafa Tafazlinia, the mayor of Abdan, "condemned" Mohammadi's actions and promised legal action, but he also qualified it as a response to repeated wrongdoing by the boy in question.

"This person realizes that the child is trying to steal from the donation box at the imamzadeh. This child has been caught trying to steal from the donation box several times," he said, according to Mizan, a news agency affiliated with the Iranian Judiciary.

IRNA reported that the prosecutor's office in Bushehr had summoned Mohammadi for questioning.

It's estimated that there are between 1 and 3 million Afghan migrants in Iran. (file photo)
It's estimated that there are between 1 and 3 million Afghan migrants in Iran. (file photo)

In response to the incident, Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations urged the Foreign Ministry and the Afghan Embassy in Tehran to press Iranian authorities to punish the culprit.

On social media, Afghans expressed anger at what many regard as just the latest indignity suffered by a member of the Afghan community in Iran.

Asad Arif, an Afghan, said on Facebook on July 24 that "Iranians have committed many crimes against Afghans," adding, "This isn't the first time and it won't be the last time."

Another Afghan, Alamdar Rezayee, said that if the victim were an Iranian national, the culprit couldn't have gotten away with a mere apology. "The Iranian authorities should investigate this case and bring the offender to justice," he said.

Ibrahim Zazai, an Afghan, said on Twitter that some Iranians "do not see Afghans as humans" despite the countries' common language, customs, and history.

Series Of Controversies

The incident is the latest to have angered the Afghan community in Iran.

In May, an Iranian store owner received a suspended jail sentence after he displayed a sign barring Afghans from his shop.

An Iranian television series, Forbidden, prompted accusations of racism on social media in March, saying it fed stereotypes of Afghan migrants as poor, uneducated, and inferior. In one episode, the heroine is forced to marry an Afghan migrant -- depicted as submissive and with a shaved head broken up by large bald patches -- as punishment for her disobedience.

In 2016, another Iranian show, titled Outbreak, angered critics who said it promoted hatred against Afghan refugees. The program's storyline included an Afghan man carrying a biologically engineered virus who is sent to Iran by the United States, Tehran's archenemy.

More recently, a viral video appearing to show an Iranian police officer slapping, insulting, and humiliating a group of Afghan migrants was met with a strong reaction in Kabul in December.

In 2012, Afghans living in the Iranian city of Isfahan were banned from a mountainous park during Nowruz festivities, with city officials saying Afghans were banned from Sofeh Park in order "to ensure citizens' welfare." The decision was quickly condemned online by some Iranians.

History Of Discrimination

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented violations against Afghan refugees and migrants in Iran, including physical abuse, detention in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, forced payment for transportation and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, and forced separation of families.

The United Nations estimates the number of Afghan citizens in Iran at just under 1 million. Tehran puts the figure of documented and undocumented Afghan refugees and migrants at closer to 3 million.

For decades, Afghans weary of war and poverty have turned to Iran to earn a living despite widespread reports of violence and injustice against immigrants.

Tehran has expelled many Afghans, who are often blamed for insecurity and unemployment in Iran, and periodically threatens those who remain with mass expulsion.

Many Afghans moved to Iran following the decade-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. Others sought refuge in Iran after the fundamentalist Taliban took power in Afghanistan.

After the U.S.-led invasion that followed 9/11 in 2001, some Afghans left for Iran in search of jobs, although hundreds of thousands of Afghans returned last year amid a crippling economic crisis in Iran.

Many Afghans take on menial work that is of little interest to Iranians.

In 2015, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a decree allowing all Afghan children to be allowed an education. But Afghans are still denied basic services, including access to health care, jobs, and even housing.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.