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Iran hopes to boost security with Afghan border wall

Shabnam von Hein
May 14, 2024

Tehran is planning to reinforce Iran's border with Afghanistan by building a concrete wall. It's a new obstacle for Afghans attempting to escape from the Taliban's regime.

A soldier stands at attention near a fence in the desert
Iranian authorities say bolstering parts of their eastern border will curb migration from neighboring AfghanistanImage: Vahid Salemi/AP Photo/picture alliance

A concrete wall spanning 74 kilometers (46 miles) is to be built along a section of Iran's border with Afghanistan and help close a known illegal crossing point, Iranian officials say.

The wall is set to be 4 meters (13 feet) high and expanded with additional barbed wire fencing.

The border between Iran and Afghanistan is about 920 kilometers long. For over 40 years, thousands have traversed rough desert and mountain terrain to enter Iran and leave behind civil war and oppression. Now, they are fleeing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Iranian authorities see the northeastern Central Khorasan province, as well as North and South Khorasan, as the top destinations for irregular migrants from Afghanistan. The region is also thought to be an entry point for terrorists.

Now, Iran's Supreme National Security Council has allocated a budget of around €3 billion ($3.3 billion) for the army to secure parts of this border with Afghanistan over the next three years. According to Iran's state news agency IRNA, the contract includes the construction of a concrete wall and a border fence in Central Khorasan.

Iran fears further 'IS' attacks

The security situation on the border with Afghanistan quickly deteriorated after the Taliban seized power in August 2021, with offshoots of the so-called Islamic State (IS) carrying out several cross-border attacks in Iran over the past three years.

In January 2024, the Islamic State — Khorasan (ISIS-K), claimed responsibility for two blasts in the city of Kerman that killed over 80 people. In 2022, IS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shiite shrine in Shiraz that killed more than a dozen people. The terror group considers the Shiite majority in Iran to be apostates from Islam.

The Iranian army's ground troops have increased their presence on the border with Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power. Despite tightened security, however, migrants are still finding ways to cross the remote border.

Millions of Afghan refugees

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimates that around 4.5 million Afghans are currently living in Iran. At least a million Afghans fled to Iran after the Taliban came to power in the summer of 2021. However, only around 50,000 of these people are registered as refugees.

Many Afghans refuse to register, for fear of deportation. They are able to blend into parts of Iranian society comparatively easily thanks to similarities in culture and language, but are also vulnerable to being exploited as cheap illegal labor.

A large percentage of Afghan refugees has no plans of ending their journey in Iran and instead see it as their first stop on the way to Europe. Those who can afford to do so turn to well-organized people-trafficking networks in Afghanistan, Iran or Turkey and pay their way westward.

Ankara is also aware of this phenomenon. To stop irregular migration, Turkey has built a 3-meter-high, 170-kilometer-long concrete wall along its 560-kilometer border with Iran.

'Abuses' of refugees spark protests across Afghanistan

Iran's second try at an Afghan border wall

Iran has been planning to reinforce its border with Afghanistan with walls for more than thirty years.

The first steps were taken in 1992. At that time, a 30-kilometer-long wall was built along the border in Sistan and Balochistan province.

In addition to curbing illegal immigration, the authorities hoped to halt the smuggling of gasoline from Iran into Afghanistan, and of drugs from Afghanistan into Iran.

Four pickup trucks drive along a sandy desert road, with many people sitting and standing on the truck bed
Around a million Afghans have fled to Iran since the Taliban takeoverImage: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

However, the wall was not built exactly along the border line. Instead, it was erected within Iranian territory, leaving almost 2,000 hectares of farmland on the other side. Iranian farmers are allowed to pass through the wall to get to their fields.

Since Taliban's reclaiming of power in Kabul, this has become a safety hazard. The Taliban regime sees the wall as the actual border. Farmers who work in their fields on the other side of the wall are repeatedly attacked and beaten, and their machines are confiscated.

"This wall is neither a border wall nor a security wall," local lawmaker Mohammad Sargazi told Iranian media. "It only makes life difficult for Iranian farmers."

Other lawmakers from the region are calling for the wall to be torn down.

Afghans fleeing halfway around globe hope for refuge in US

This article was originally writen in German.