By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) - Thousands of Afghans stranded in Pakistan flooded the eastern Torkham border crossing point between the two countries, defying immigration rules and safety precautions against spreading the novel coronavirus.
Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, told Anadolu Agency that Pakistani authorities had allowed tens of thousands of stranded Afghans on Tuesday to pass through the border gate without proper immigration control and social distancing.
Pakistan on Saturday announced it would open its border with Afghanistan for four days to facilitate stranded Afghan nationals' return home.
"On the first day [Monday], we managed the return of travelers properly, but today, thousands of travelers were allowed by the Pakistani authorities to flood the crossing point," Khogyani said.
Authorities in Nangarhar had set up sprawling quarantine camps at Torkham to screen suspected COVID-19 patients.
However, Pakistani officials rejected Afghanistan's accusation, saying they allowed the Afghan nationals' passage on Kabul's request.
"Before opening the border at the special request of the Afghan government, it was decided that per day, 1,000 Afghan nationals will be allowed to cross the border. But yesterday, more than 4,000 people were gathered there and we permitted only 1,000 to go," a Pakistani official at the Torkham border said on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Later, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan requested all Afghans gathered at the border be allowed passage on Tuesday, he added.
Late on Monday, the envoy, Atif Mashal, said he had reached an agreement with the Pakistani government to allow Afghan nationals reached at the border to cross into Afghanistan.
"We reached a conclusion with the Pakistani government to allow all passengers to enter Afghanistan, from Spin Boldak and Torkham through tomorrow [Tuesday], without regard to the restrictions on passing one thousand," Mashal said on Twitter.
He added that they also discussed with the concerned Afghan authorities to have full preparedness and facilities.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday spoke over the phone with the Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif about the state of Afghan refugees in Iran in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to an official statement, Zarif assured him that health services would be provided to Afghan refugees free of cost.
By Tuesday, Afghanistan had 423 cases of the novel virus, with western Herat province, bordering Iran, as the worst affected.
Since appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 184 countries and regions.
Data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University shows worldwide infections surpassing 1.36 million with nearly 76,400 deaths. Almost 292,400 people have recovered.
*Islamuddin Sajid contributed from Islamabad