Thousands of Afghans return from Iran as virus hits economy

Health workers “only ask (returnees) some questions and test their temperature”

Nearly 70,000 Afghans have returned from virus-hit Iran in the past 20 days, an official said Monday, overwhelming health workers at border crossings and raising fears of a major outbreak in the impoverished country.

Many Afghans who had gone to Iran to look for work are returning home as the contagion cripples Iran’s economy, which was already devastated by US sanctions. Afghanistan’s spring harvest is also drawing workers back, said the International Organization for Migration.

They were allowed to re-enter after Kabul reopened land crossings for Afghans wanting to return home — despite having earlier suspended air and ground links over fears of the virus spreading from Iran, one of the world’s worst-hit countries.

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More health workers and better testing facilities were needed to cope with the increasing number of returnees and avoid a health disaster, warned Jawed Nadim, head of the refugees repatriation department in the western province of Herat, which borders Iran.

Health workers “only ask (returnees) some questions and test their temperature”, Nadim told AFP, adding: “This is not enough.”

Iran has recorded 853 deaths from the new coronavirus since February 19, officials said Monday, appealing for people to stop travelling.

Afghanistan has 21 confirmed infections so far, most of them in Herat.

Read more: AFP