Hundreds of drug users from Iran are turning up in Afghanistan’s western Nimroz province, with some claiming they were dumped there as undesirables by police from their own country.
Afghan officials worry that Tehran is exporting its social problems, although Iranian diplomats say there is no such policy. Others say that at least some drug users congregate in Afghanistan because narcotics are so freely available there and there are none of the draconian punishments meted out by the Iranian authorities.
Reza, 27, told how he was detained as a drug user in his home city of Zahedan in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province, and was then included among a group of Afghan refugees who were being deported.
“I have documents showing I’m an Iranian national,” he told IWPR. “When I apply to government offices in Nimroz, they tell me to go to the border and ask the Iranian frontier officers to let me cross over. But when I go there, Iranian border officials abuse me and refuse to let me enter my own country.”
Reza says he sleeps in religious shrines in Zaranj, the main provincial town in Nimroz, and survives on the food he gathers from rubbish piles. He recently helped bury a friend. aged 40 and like him from Zahedan, who he says died “for lack of drugs”.
“Other addicts buried him between two graves,” he said.
Another man, Hossein, 38, said he was detained after family members in Iran’s Zabol province went to the police to complain about his chronic addiction problem.
He too said he was packed off across the border as part of a group of deported Afghan nationals. When he showed Afghan police his Iranian ID, they made efforts to send him home, but guards on the other side of the border would not admit him.
Mohammad Anwar Muradi, the head of the provincial counter-narcotics department, said ten to 15 Iranian drug users were entering Nimroz every week.
“There are currently about 2,000 drug addicts in Nimroz province, 80 per cent of them Afghans and Iranians deported from Iran,” he said. “It isn’t yet clear why Iranian border officials are deporting their own nationals to Afghanistan.”
The provincial police chief Hajji Musa Rasuli says his men have detained around 40 Iranian nationals in the region in the past two months, but have yet to pinpoint those living in Zaranj. His officers have tried to send ten drug users back home in recent weeks but Iranian frontier guards would not let them in.
Hajji Najibullah Alami, chief of staff in the provincial governor’s office, said the matter had been raised with Iranian officials, but no satisfactory response had been received.
An Iranian diplomat at the consulate in Herat, speaking on condition of anonymity, flatly denied that his country was expelling its own citizens. He suggested that individuals claiming to be Iranian nationals were in fact Afghans who had been properly deported, and were now seeking a way back into Iran.
“Anyone who has documents can enter Iran and will be assisted by Iranian border officers,” he said.
Residents of Nimroz province say many Iranians come and go voluntarily to enjoy the free market in heroin and other drugs.
“There’s no rigorous control in border areas, so Iranians come over from the other side, buy drugs and go back,” restaurant owner Hajji Sultan said.
He went on to voice a belief that appears to be widespread and was even articulated by some of the officials interviewed for this article, “Iran is deliberately deporting its addicts to Afghanistan in order to spread lethal diseases among Afghans.”
The Afghan government is struggling to provide drug treatment centres for the expanding number of users, and health officials in Nimroz say they do not have the resources to admit Iranian nationals as well. The country’s counter-narcotics minister, Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, recently said there was capacity to treat just one per cent of the estimated one million addicts.
Dr Nur Ahmad, the provincial health chief for Nimroz province, said no clinics existed to run medical checks on individuals – whether returning Afghan refugees or Iranians – as they entered the country.
“Initial assessments indicate that 50 per cent of addicts in Nimroz province are using needles, which increases the incidence of diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis,” he said.
Zia Ahmadi is an IWPR-trained journalist reporting from western Afghanistan.