As Migrants Flee Iran’s Outbreak, Afghanistan Braces for a COVID-19 Surge

As Migrants Flee Iran’s Outbreak, Afghanistan Braces for a COVID-19 Surge
Thousands of Afghan migrants enter Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran, March 18, 2020 (AP photo by Hamed Sarfarazi).

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan migrants have returned home from neighboring Iran in recent months, fleeing one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. Iran has more than 94,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with a death toll of 6,000, although the real figures are likely higher. The exodus has raised concerns of an impending spike in coronavirus cases in Afghanistan. In an email interview with WPR, Annalisa Perteghella, a research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Center at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, discusses the high risk of coronavirus transmission in Afghanistan and the impact the pandemic is having on peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

World Politics Review: Roughly how many Afghans have returned home from Iran recently? How much transmission of the disease is this migration causing in Afghanistan?

Annalisa Perteghella: According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 255,000 Afghans returned from Iran between Jan. 1 and April 18. The United Nations refugee agency said in mid-April that around 1,500 individuals are returning to Afghanistan every day. The U.N. also reports that Afghans returning from Iran mention the fear of contracting the virus and the loss of their job as the main reasons for returning.

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