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Homeless people take shelter in empty graves outside Iran’s capital, prompt reactions

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This photo shows an Iranian woman living in a graveyard in Shahriyar, west of the capital Tehran.

A series of photos showing homeless people sheltering from winter in empty graves outside the Iranian capital Tehran have stirred emotions in the country, prompting reactions from both people and officials.

On Tuesday, Shahrvand newspaper published a report along with photographs that showed some 50 homeless people dwelling in a graveyard, with some of them sleeping in empty graves, in the town of Shahriyar west of Tehran.

The dramatic pictures were quickly circulated on social media and drew bitter reactions from the public and celebrities, who expressed deep alarm and sadness over the report.

Among the celebrities who showed profound frustration was Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, who in a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appealed to the government to address the issue.

“Today, I read the appalling report about… the men, women and children who sleep in graves in one of the cemeteries on the outskirts of Tehran, and now I am filled with shame and sorrow,” read part of the letter by the acclaimed director. “With this letter, I seek to share this embarrassment with all those who were and have been in charge in this country over the past 30 years.”

Farhadi called on Iranian officials to go among the people incognito to see those who live with dignity although they barely make ends meet.  

Rouhani on Wednesday reacted to the letter by the famous Iranian director, expressing regret over the issue.

“Yesterday I read a very painful letter by an artist. We have heard that some sleep in cardboards or under bridges out of poverty, but we had not heard about those who sleep in graves,” Rouhani said.

“Who can, in a great country like Iran,... see that some of their fellow countrymen, who have been affected by social harm, take shelter in graves due to helplessness?” added the Iranian president.

He said that seeing people living in such conditions was “unacceptable” to both the Iranian government and nation and called on all to join hands to address such problems. 

Meanwhile, the governor of Tehran Province, Hossein Hashemi, said the graveyard dwellers were addicts, adding that they had been transferred to homeless shelters.

This photo taken on December 28, 2016, shows a homeless shelter in the Iranian capital, Tehran.  

He said that more than 6,000 addicts were now being treated in rehabilitation centers in Tehran Province.  

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