Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered a probe into the drowning of several Afghan migrants last week after reports that Iranian border guards allegedly forced them into a river.
Afghan authorities had already been investigating the incident, but Ghani on May 8 formed a new 10-member team to look into the deaths after 18 bodies of migrants were recovered, some of them bearing signs of torture.
Officials claim the migrants drowned in the Harirud River while illegally crossing into Iran from Afghanistan’s western Herat Province.
A decree issued by Ghani orders the team to carry out a “thorough investigation into reports about the deaths of several countrymen along the Iranian border," the president’s office said in a statement.
Abdul Ghani Noori, the governor of Herat Province, said earlier on May 8 that out of 55 Afghan migrants who were forced into the river authorities had so far recovered 18 bodies and six were still missing.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on May 4 called allegations that Iranian border guards beat and then forced Afghan migrants into the river “shocking.”
Afghan officials said last week that the Afghans were beaten, tortured, and then forced into the Harirud River by Iranian border guards.
“The allegations are indeed shocking,” Patricia Gossman, an associate director for the Asia division at HRW, told RFE/RL on May 4.
“It really requires a very thorough investigation into what exactly happened,” she added.
Gossman said if proven, the actions of the Iranian border guards would amount to “a very serious human rights violation.”
Abbas Musavi, a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, said the "incident" took place on Afghan soil.
"Border guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the occurrence of any events related to this on the soil of our country," he said in a statement on May 3, adding that Tehran would launch an investigation.
Decades of conflict, extreme poverty, and high rates of unemployment force thousands of Afghans to illegally cross the border to Iran every year.
There are currently up to 1 million registered Afghan refugees in Iran, while the country hosts another 2 million undocumented Afghans, according to the United Nations.