People survey the scene of a fire at Islam Qala Border near Iran, in Herat, Afghanistan, February 13 2021 |Photo: Jalil Rezayee / EPA
People survey the scene of a fire at Islam Qala Border near Iran, in Herat, Afghanistan, February 13 2021 |Photo: Jalil Rezayee / EPA

A fire on the border between Afghanistan and Iran on Saturday damaged a reception center run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), resulting in a halt to services for repatriated Afghans.

A catastrophic fire on Saturday, February 13 on the border between Afghanistan and Iran, which killed at least 40 people and injured 17 others, also damaged the Islam Qala Reception Center run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The center provided humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of repatriated Afghans in 2020. Neither IOM personnel nor the migrants returning to Afghanistan from Iran were injured in the fire.

According to a statement issued by the organization on Monday, "IOM anticipates rates of return through Islam Qala will drop significantly in the coming days as migrants on their return journeys from Iran are now being diverted to the major border crossing at Milak, in Nimroz province, located more than 1,000 kilometres to the southwest. On 14 February, over 2,000 undocumented migrants crossed at the Milak crossing, a trend that may escalate over the coming days until the Islam Qala border resumes full functionality."

Record high number of Afghans returned in 2020

Nick Bishop, program manager for IOM's cross border return response told journalists, "an initial assessment of the reception facility for returnees revealed extensive damage to the roof and ceiling."

Bishop continued, "fortunately, all returnees who registered that day at our reception center already had moved onward to their next destination before the fire began."

The organization noted that: "Rates of return have significantly increased over the past year as COVID-19 caused many Afghans working in neighboring Iran to lose jobs and livelihoods. 2020 was the largest return year on record, with nearly 860,000 undocumented Afghan migrants coming back from Iran."

'We need more support'

"Approximately 15,000 people cross the Islam Qala border point daily, while nearly 1,500 per day are in need of humanitarian assistance," the IOM statement continued.

"We hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so," Bishop added.

"The organization is taking extraordinary action to ensure that humanitarian assistance can continue. Staff from the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) will refer people in need here to IOM's transit center in Herat until IOM staff return, pending a full assessment of the damage sustained and a review of the security situation. Until then, IOM staff will continue their work from IOM's largest transit facility in Herat," the statement noted.

 

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