Stampede kills 15 Afghans seeking visas for Pakistan

by MCR Correspondent

Not less than 15 people have been killed in stampede among thousands of Afghans who gathered near Pakistan’s consulate on Tuesday as jostling broke out between people applying for visas.

Over 3,000 Afghans had congregated on the open ground, usually used for sports or pubic gatherings, outside the consulate, waiting to collect tokens needed to apply for a visa.

The Pakistani consulate in the eastern Nangarhar province was closed for almost eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Anticipating a large crowd, officials decided to use the stadium and assigned 320 staffers to help manage the process, Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, said.

An Afghan news channel transmitted images of the people holding passports aloft to secure a token. Images taken after the stampede showed scores of passports strewn across the ground.

“The visa applicants jostled to secure their token from the consulate officials…the crowd got out of control, leading to a stampede,” said an Afghan official.

A survivor described to Reuters how tempers frayed and the crowd became unruly in the lead up to the stampede.

“I stood in the queue all night but at some point people got angry and started pushing, many of us fell on the ground,” said Farmanullah, who goes by a single name.

Eleven of the 15 victims were women, and several senior citizens were among more than a dozen injured, Sohrab Qaderi, a provincial council member, said.

Tens of thousands of Afghans every year travel to neighboring Pakistan to secure medical treatment, education and jobs. The two countries share a nearly 2,600-kilometer border.

Pakistan hosts about 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, who have fled violence, religious persecution and poverty in their war-torn country.

The Pakistan embassy in Kabul issued a statement expressing “deep grief and sadness”, and officials said Afghan authorities had been responsible for marshalling the crowd on the sports ground.

In a separate incident, at least 34 Afghan police were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, officials said.

It was the deadliest attack since the Taliban and the Afghan government began holding long-delayed peace talks last month, part of a process launched under a deal signed between the United States and the insurgents in February. The talks are seen as the country’s best chance for peace after decades of war.

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