Escaping War At Home, Afghans Try To Find Safe Haven In Turkey

Since the announcement of the US and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, a violent conflict arose between the Taliban and the Afghan government. As the Taliban took control of dozens of districts, Afghan citizens were displaced inside their country. Others fled into Turkey, via Iran, on foot and were detained.

Officials reported that around 1,500 irregular migrants were detained by the Turkish security forces last week. Most of them were Afghan irregular migrants who migrated amid the violence in Afghanistan.

Thousands of Afghan refugees flee into Turkey via Iranian borders and get detained by Turkish authorities every day.

Turkey is regarded to be a global host for refugees. Turkey hosts more than 4 million refugees. The majority of which are from Syria.

Turkey, for Afghans, has a key location straddling East and West, making it a suitable stopover for refugees to start a new life in Europe.

“I came to Tukey to save my life,” Nisar Ahmed, an Afghani refugee living in Zeytinburnu, on the European side of Istanbul said.

“I came here illegally since it was difficult to obtain a permit,” Ahmad said.

Finding a place to live and work has been a big struggle. For refugees, our options are either working as waiters in restaurants or doing manual labor like construction work. We have very few options here, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made things even worse, he added.

He said: “Most refugees coming to Turkey don’t intend to stay here. Everyone wants to go to Europe, but since borders and routes are closed they have all become stagnant. These days, because of the U.S. withdrawal, everyone is planning their exit strategy, and many are choosing Turkey as a kind of pitstop.”

According to survey data made in 2020, almost half of Afghan migrants and refugees (48.7%) choose Turkey to reunite with family, and 45.2% choose Turkey for easier and faster access to asylum, economic reasons, and better living standards.

Although Turkey says that there is no surge in numbers, the UN refugee agency estimates that 270,000 Afghans were displaced inside their country since January, bringing the number of people forced from their homes to 3.5 million.

In Turkey, the Afghan migrant population constitutes 300,000 and 500,000 people, representing the second-largest migrant group after Syrians.

While the vast majority of Afghan migrants are hosted by neighboring countries, mainly Pakistan and Iran.

It is feared that the Afghan influx of migrants into Turkey, via Iran, would increase if the ongoing violence between the Afghan government and the Taliban turned into a civil war, after the US and NATO gradual forces withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The migration wave sparked an angry and xenophobic reaction in Turkey, especially after a video, that is circulating social media in Turkey, shows a number of Afghan migrants on foot at the borders between Turkey and Iran.

Rusen Takva, a Turkish journalist, tweeted, “In Afghanistan after the Taliban gained power, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees began to leave their country. Refugee convoys, who set out from their countries, started to enter Turkey in groups via Iran.”

Turks condemn and complain that such a migration wave would be a burden on the Turkish economy that is already struggling. They also blamed Turkish President Erdogan who welcomed migrants in the name of ‘Islamic Brotherhood’ and in exchange for funds from Europe.

Adding to the 1,500 detained irregular migrants, 133 were detained earlier along the country’s border with Iran.

According to local authorities, 73 Afghans were taken into custody on Saturday in the eastern province of Van, while another 60 migrants, 59 from Afghanistan, were held in Ercis, a district also in Van province.

This is not the first time the Afghan exodus occurred. The large-scale forced displacement of Afghans could be divided into four main phases.

The four phases of the Afghan exodus

The first phase: It commenced in the aftermath of the Saur Revolution in 1978 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As the Soviet occupation lasted from 1979-89, millions of Afghans were forcibly displaced reaching 6.2 million displaced people.

The second phase: By the early 1990s, the Taliban was established by a faction of Mujahideen, seized the capital of Kabul, and controlled 90 percent of Afghan territory. Because of the Taliban, the ultraconservative group that was religiously extremist, conflicts between groups intensified, leading a large number of Afghans to migrate to Pakistan and Iran to the present day.

The third phase: It started after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, in response to September 11 attacks in the US. The invasion led to the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 and a forced displacement of 200,000 to 300,000 Afghans.

As the international community helped return back political order and stability in Afghanistan, more than 4.3 million Afghans returned back to their country, mostly from Pakistan and Iran.

It was the largest return of refugees in the UNHCR’s history.

The fourth phase: It started in the mid-2000s until the present day that is marked by physical and political instability and insecurity. Taliban came to control Afghan territory more than before.

In 2015, Afghans became the second-largest group migrating to the EU via Greece, Turkey, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Western Balkans.

By August 2019, the US negotiated with the Taliban a peace deal that failed in September 2019 but succeeded later in early 2020.

Upon the deal, the US and NATO withdrew their forces gradually. Since then, a conflict arose between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Migration routes

Afghan migrants and refugees find their journey to Turkey very hard and full of difficulties. They tend to take land routes rather than sea or air routes, as the latter routes need more resources and organization.

While land routes are cheaper, as they do not need to have passports, visas, or documents, safer, and faster.

They travel to Turkey via Iran, which happens more frequently, and Pakistan, to cross the Iran-Turkey land border and enter the eastern border provinces of Turkey as Van and Agri.

The routes pursued from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Iran and then to Turkey are very dangerous and hard to navigate.

The main risks, Afghan migrants face are deaths and injuries. This is due to the weather and physical conditions of the roads.

It has been also reported by some that they pursue mountainous areas without food or water.

However, smugglers, who are aware of the routes and often used to help migrants travel to Turkey, choose these risky routes to minimize the risks of apprehension.

Regarding transportation, some reported that they were transmitted in trucks that are crowded and not suitable for transporting people.

Basic needs, clothes, shoes, and blankets were being supplied to the migrants and refugees with the assistance of fellow migrants, local community and volunteers, UN, or NGOs.

However, there has been a gap between what is really needed and the assistance they receive.

All in all, it could be said that Afghan citizens are the ones who suffer and fall victims to conflicts, violence, and political disorder in their country. The situation in Afghanistan and forced displacement are expected to become worse if a civil war erupted.

This is especially after the Taliban group claimed that it controls 85% of Afghan districts (250 out of nearly 400). In addition, the extremist ultraconservative ideology of the Taliban is not widely accepted by Afghans, which might lead to the rise of resistance movements.

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