‘Afghanistan is over’ – Afghan refugees trying to reach Turkey challenge new border wall


Faced with a potential increase in refugee arrivals from Afghanistan, Turkey is strengthening its border with Iran. Although a new concrete wall appears to have limited irregular crossings, the number of Afghans who would gather near the no-return border worries Turkey and the EU.

Mohammed, 18, has been on the road for 25 days. He started his journey in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He told the news agency AFP that he paid € 600 to a Turkish smuggler to bring him to Istanbul, his destination, but that the smuggler dropped him off very far from there.

On the border between Iran and Turkey, a new wall has been built to deter migrants from crossing irregularly. Yet some manage to squeeze in at night – the only traces left by migrants are empty bottles or fresh footprints, AFP reports. Turkish armored vehicles patrol the border in the early morning hours.

Afghans who reach here via Iran “spend days in hiding from the police and nights finding ways to get to big cities like Izmir and Istanbul before finding smugglers to take them away.” in Europe ”, reports AFP.

Increase in border crossings

Like Mohammed, countless Afghans desperately want to leave their country. However, many are deterred by border restrictions – figures from the European Union even indicate that the number of Afghans who entered Europe fell by around 40% in the first six months of the year due to border restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. .

However, the number of Afghan refugees trying to enter Turkey from Iran has increased in recent times. Citing estimates by human rights activists, news agency dpa said more than 1,000 Afghans arrived in Van province every day at the end of July. At the end of July, the Turkish authorities apprehended more than a hundred irregular migrants there, three days after a similar incident.

Afghans who fled weeks and months ago now show up at the rugged Iran-Turkey border – a border crossing that regularly claims lives when migrants die in road accidents or by drowning in trying to cross Lake Van in small boats.

About 2.5 million Afghan refugees have sought refuge in other countries. This family was pictured in eastern Turkey on August 17, 2021 | Photo: Ozturk Ali Ihsan / Demiroren Visual Media / ABACA / picture-alliance

Turkey tries to isolate itself

Turkish authorities are increasingly worried about a possible wave of Afghan refugees entering Turkey – security officials have reportedly said privately that “tens of thousands of Afghans are massing on the Iranian side”, according to AFP.

In response, a “243 kilometer concrete wall, topped with barbed wire and surrounded by trenches” is currently under construction along Turkey’s 534 kilometer border with Iran. According to Turkish officials, the 156 kilometers already built have probably already limited the flow of migrants.

The recent riots in Ankara were a stark reminder that the estimated four million refugees in Turkey are increasingly facing xenophobic attacks. Experts have even warned that things could escalate in the future. In an apparent attempt to capitalize on the nation’s mood, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will put “a complete stop” to irregular migrant crossings.

Afghans and Pakistanis in Bitlis Province, eastern Turkey, August 18, 2021 |  Photo: Emrah Gurel / AP Photo / picture alliance
Afghans and Pakistanis in Bitlis Province, eastern Turkey, August 18, 2021 | Photo: Emrah Gurel / AP Photo / picture alliance

On Thursday August 19, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on European nations to take responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban and warned that his country would not become Europe’s “refugee storehouse”. PA reported. In a televised address following a Cabinet meeting, Erdogan also said his government would engage “if necessary” in talks with a government that could be formed by the Taliban “for the stability and security of this country “.

In 2016, Turkey and the European Union signed the so-called EU-Turkey Agreement thus Turkey would stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees to Europe, in exchange for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and substantial financial support from the EU. Erdogan has often accused the EU of failing to live up to its end of the bargain.

“Afghanistan is over”

Ikbali, whose 15-day trip from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan took him to Pakistan and Iran, sees no future in his home country. “Afghanistan is over,” he said. “It will be even worse now. I’m 19. I would like to go to school or to the mosque, but my life is over.”

Others, like AA, are already making their second escape attempt. The 17-year-old was deported from Turkey to his home country last year after being arrested in Istanbul, where he was illegally working as a barber. He said he would like to stay in Turkey for good. “Your state [Turkey] tells me to go to Afghanistan, but there is a war “, he said AFP. “I don’t want to go to Europe. If Turkey shelters me, I want to stay.”

Afghan refugees in Bitlis province, eastern Turkey, August 18, 2021 |  Photo: Emrah Gurel / AP Photo / picture alliance
Afghan refugees in Bitlis province, eastern Turkey, August 18, 2021 | Photo: Emrah Gurel / AP Photo / picture alliance

No resettlement, uncertainty in Iran

Turkey’s practice of resettling Afghans in most European third countries and refugee-welcoming places such as Canada ended in 2013 when EU member states declared Afghanistan safe due to the presence of NATO troops there.

In Turkey, the Afghans are the second group of migrants after the Syrians with 120,000 Afghan refugees and up to 300,000 undocumented Afghan migrants. The largest group is made up of around 3.6 million Syrians.

An Afghan family who crossed the Iran-Turkey border near Tatvan district in Bitlis, Turkey on August 17, 2021 |  Photo: Ali Ihsan Ozturk / Demiroren Visual Media / ABACA / picture-alliance
An Afghan family who crossed the Iran-Turkey border near Tatvan district in Bitlis, Turkey August 17, 2021 | Photo: Ali Ihsan Ozturk / Demiroren Visual Media / ABACA / picture-alliance

Metin Corabatir, former Turkish spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said in the past Afghanistan’s western neighbor Iran has been able to absorb the flow of migrants . “It hosted two million Afghans during the Soviet invasion of 1979,” he said. AFP.

Yet he also said years of US-led sanctions linked to Tehran’s nuclear program have devastated the Iranian economy, making the whole situation in the region more volatile. “To what extent Iran could provide protection to the new arrivals, we do not yet know,” Corabatir said.

“People have no other choice”

In Tatvan, a town at the western end of Lake Van, some 200 kilometers from the border with Iran, a group of Afghans found temporary shelter after crossing the border. MZ, 16, saw no future in Afghanistan without help from other countries.

“The Taliban will kill you if you go to a school, they will kill you if you side with the government,” he said. “And the government will kill you if you side with the Taliban,” he added, referring to life before the Taliban took control of Kabul.

“People have no other choice, they have no money, no job and no job. What will we do there? Where will we go if neighboring countries do not provide us with shelter?

With AFP

Note: Names have been anonymized

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