The deaths of three Afghan refugees in a car fire in central Iran has prompted an outpouring of anger towards police after the blaze began when officers shot at the vehicle.
Another four people were injured in the blaze, including a boy seen begging “Give me some water, I am burning” in video of the incident.
The deputy governor of the central Iranian province of Yazd, Ahmad Tarahomi, told local media that police officers suspected the car was carrying drugs and undocumented migrants.
When the car failed to stop at a checkpoint they opened fire, he said. After its tyres were hit the car continued to drive on its wheel rims causing sparks that started the fire, Mr Tarahomi added.
There was a wave of outrage online after the video went viral on social media, adding to long-standing anger about alleged mistreatment of Afghans in Iran.
Some Afghans made comparisons with police brutality in the US, which has triggered protests in recent days. “A boy screams for a drop of water but no one gives him. He is burnt. Where is humanity? #shameful,” tweeted Javid Ahmad Qaem, Afghanistan’s ambassador to China.
The car fire follows another controversial incident on May 1 when Iranian border guards were accused of torturing and throwing as many as 57 Afghans into the Hari River in western Herat province to prevent their illegal entry into Iran.
Tehran has roundly rejected the claims, saying the incident took place on the Afghan side of the border and Iranian forces had no role in it.
There are about three million Afghan refugees in Iran who have sought refuge there because of war and poverty in their home nation.
Afghans routinely cross the border into Iran and are frequently caught and deported back into Afghanistan. In 2019, alone, a total of 451,073 Afghans returned from Iran – a big chunk of them forced through deportation.
Afghans complain of widespread discrimination in Iran but since a law introduced in 2015 all Afghan children can go to school, regardless of whether they are refugees, holders of an Afghan national passport or undocumented.
The United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, says Iran needs additional humanitarian support to ensure education and other services to refugees are maintained.
In the past year the cost of living in Iran has skyrocketed, making it harder than ever before for families – Iranians and Afghans alike – to make ends meet.