Turkey strengthens border to block wave of Afghan migrants
- Turkey currently hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees
- Taliban takeover in Afghanistan sparks concern over new wave of migrants
- Erdogan says Turkey will not be “Europe’s migrants storage unit”
- Repatriation of Afghans interrupted due to current situation in the country
VAN, Turkey, Aug.22 (Reuters) – Afghans who manage to cross Iran on foot to the Turkish border run into a three-meter-high wall, ditches or barbed wire as Turkish authorities step up their efforts. efforts to block any refugee influx into the country.
The strengthening of border measures in Turkey, which already hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees and is a step for many migrants trying to reach Europe, began when the Taliban began to advance in Afghanistan and took control from Kabul last week.
Authorities plan to add an additional 64 km by the end of the year to a border wall started in 2017. Ditches, wires and security patrols will cover the remainder of the 560 km border.
“We want to show the whole world that our borders are impassable,” Mehmet Emin Bilmez, governor of the eastern border province of Van, told Reuters at the weekend. “Our greatest hope is that there is no wave of migrants from Afghanistan.”
Turkey is not the only country to erect barriers: its neighbor Greece has just completed a 40 km fence and a surveillance system to remove migrants who still manage to enter Turkey and try to reach the Union European. Read more
Authorities say there are 182,000 registered Afghan migrants in Turkey and up to 120,000 unregistered. President Tayyip Erdogan urged European countries to take responsibility for any further influx, warning that Turkey does not intend to become “Europe’s migrant storage unit”.
The number of irregular Afghan migrants detained in Turkey so far this year is less than a fifth of the number detained in 2019, and officials say they have yet to see signs of a major increase since the victory Taliban last week, although the long distances mean refugees could take weeks to arrive.
The Turkish side of the mountainous border with Iran is lined with bases and watchtowers. Patrol cars monitor movements on the Iranian side around the clock, from where migrants, smugglers and Kurdish militants frequently attempt to cross into Turkey.
Migrants who are seen crossing the border are sent back to the Iranian side, although most return and try again, according to security forces.
“No matter how many high-level steps you take, there may be those who sidestep them from time to time,” Bilmez said.
‘LET US STAY’
Roads from the border are lined with checkpoints. Successful migrants are hidden by smugglers in houses – often dirty and dilapidated buildings underground or in deeply dried up riverbeds – while waiting to be transferred to western Turkey.
On Saturday, police captured 25 migrants, mostly Afghans, behind a dilapidated building in the Hacibekir neighborhood of Van.
“We thought we will have facilities here, we will win to support our parents. There, there are Taliban killing us,” said Zaynullah, 20, one of the detainees. He said he arrived in Turkey two days earlier after traveling on foot for 80 days.
Those captured are taken for health and safety checks at a processing center. There, Seyyed Fahim Mousavi, a 26-year-old, said he fled his home in Kabul a month ago, before the Taliban arrived, fearing they would kill him because he had worked as a driver for Americans and Turks.
His 22-year-old wife, Morsal, said they crossed Iran mainly on foot to escape the Taliban.
“They hurt women. After raping them, they kill them. They behead the men,” she said, holding her two children, aged two and five. “We don’t want to go back. Let’s just let ourselves stay here.”
After treatment, migrants are taken to a repatriation center, where they can spend up to 12 months before being returned to their country of origin. Those repatriations have been halted for Afghans now, leaving around 7,500 Afghans in limbo in various repatriation centers.
Ramazan Secilmis, deputy head of the migration directorate, said his organization was working to identify those in need of protection from the Taliban for resettlement in third countries.
“Those in need of protection must be separated from those who come to our country for economic reasons. We cannot automatically expel anyone just because they have Afghan nationality,” he said.
Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Hugh Lawson
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