In Iran, Afghan refugees and Christian minorities who have sought refuge following the U.S. withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan in August are now once again fearing for their lives.
Local reports say that Iranian authorities are forcing thousands of Afghan refugees back to their homeland after an agreement with the Taliban militant forces. About four million Afghan refugees have fled to Iran and further influx will cause a major humanitarian crisis.
Understandably, Iran has several vulnerability and security concerns. According to the Middle East Institute, "Tehran has a genuine fear that Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) insurgents might infiltrate into Iran as refugees. This concern is so serious within the government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that it may have been the driving factor behind Iran's efforts to cozy up with the Taliban since 2016."
"[Iran feels] the eastern borders are vulnerable and consider only the Taliban able to fight ISKP," the report said. The talks between Iran and the Taliban are already occurring. According to France24, Iranian officials have already banished Afghan refugees back into Afghanistan "after coming to an agreement with the Taliban." Refugee camps that house Afghans who fled are now being torn down as refugees are being sent back home to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Christians and other minorities in Afghanistan continue to fear for their lives. According to Mission Network News, Christians remain in danger in the Taliban-ruled country. On Thursday, a Taliban official promised the return of hardline Islamic rule and barbaric punishments for violators of their Islamic law.
An Afghan pastor who partnered with Heart 4 Iran warned that some desperate Afghans are even posing as Christians just to get out of Afghanistan. He said that they will "fake it until they make it" out of the country, saying, "We should be very careful. Many people [go] by the name of Christian [because] they want to come out of Afghanistan. They are false believers."
A leader with persecution watchdog Open Doors said that some Afghan refugees are indeed saying they are Christians despite being on the contrary. They are using it as an excuse to "gain sympathy" and "get out of the country." Meanwhile, other Christians who have not yet been discovered by the Taliban want to remain in the country. But that does not mean they are not in danger.
Author John Weaver, who is a Gospel worker inside Afghanistan, told Kentucky Today that it is a "dangerous time" for Christians in Afghanistan, describing them "like sheep among wolves. Some have already fled; some are in different locations and hiding. And yet we know that for some, God will call [them] to stay there."
Weaver said that the Taliban is "on a vengeance" and are " trying to cleanse the land in their strict view of Islam and a lot of it is directed to our brothers and sisters who we want to be praying for in these days."
Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton however, is confident in the strength of the Christian community in Afghanistan, saying that it had significantly grown over the last 20 years. He said, "There are Christians in every province and hundreds of Bible studies in house groups or friends who get together to listen to praise choruses and study the Bible. The idea that the Taliban is going to shut all of those down...that's not going to happen."
Please pray for the safety of the Christians in Afghanistan and Iran.