Hundreds of Afghans flee to Turkey every day after Taliban takeover

Since US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of large parts of the country. Many Afghans have been forced to flee the violence, some have made the decision to leave the country. Many cross Turkey after leaving Afghanistan and traveling through Iran on foot. A recent video, widely shared in Turkey, documents this new wave of migration.

According to Turkish media, at least 500 Afghans have crossed into Turkey from Iran every day in recent weeks. Most are fleeing the violence and fighting that followed the withdrawal of US troops in early July.

This is an increase of at least 150 percent in the number of crossings compared to previous summers. In general, summer is a peak time for crossing the border as it is considered the safest time to make an attempt.

These newcomers join the four million refugees currently living in Turkey, 3.6 million of them from Syria.

Several videos documenting – and often condemning – this new wave of migration are circulating on social media in Turkey. For example, the video below has been viewed more than 600,000 times and sparked angry and xenophobic reactions. It was also picked up by numerous media outlets.

Afganistan’da, Taliban’ın güç kazanması sonrası on binlerce Afgan uyruklu mülteci ülkelerini terk etmeye başladı. Ülkelerinden yola çıkan mülteci kafileleri, gruplar halinde İran üzerinden Türkiye’ye girmeye başladı.

— Rusen Takva (@RusenTakva) July 11, 2021

“After the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees began to leave their country. Convoys of refugees have entered Turkey in groups via Iran,” wrote Rusen Takva, a Turkish journalist who shared this video on Twitter on July 11.

Takva told the JowharObservers team that the video was filmed by a bystander in early July and shows a group of migrants trying to cross the border between Turkey and Iran, which he says is about a mile away.

There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and many Turks are complaining via social media about what they see as a lack of border control. Some critics say this “wave of migration” will “weaken” Turkey’s already struggling economy. Some have also blamed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in the past struck a deal and agreed to welcome some migrants to the country in exchange for money from Europe.

In response to this debate, Turkey’s deputy interior minister released a statement saying that these videos of Afghan migrants had been “taken out of context” and said they had been filmed in Iran, far from the Turkish border – possibly even on the border between Afghanistan and Iran or Afghanistan and Tajikistan. He also rejected the idea that migrants could “easily cross the border” into Turkey, citing the construction of a 149km-long border wall along the 499km-long border with Iran.

However, the migrants featured in this particular video failed to cross the border into Turkey.

‘The migrants had failed in their attempt to cross the border and had been arrested’

The JowharObservers team spoke to two Iranian villagers who live just a few miles from the Turkish border, where this video was recorded. With their help, we were able to determine the location of the video. It was filmed near the villages of Balesur Sofla, 3.7 km as the crow flies from the Iran-Turkey border.

We were able to geolocate this photo by examining geographic features and comparing them to images of locations along the border. Orange represents the shape of the mountain, yellow represents specific trees, and blue represents telephone poles. Pink indicates a large rock formation on the mountain. The coordinates of this location are 38.70690552979099, 44.31337602957149. © Google Earth Pro/ JowharObservers

While these migrants were indeed close to the border, our geolation allowed us to see that they were actually walking in the opposite direction. In the video, they are walking to the right, which in reality is east, meaning they are heading towards the interior of Iran.

A Balesur Sofla resident, who wished to remain anonymous, recalls the migrants who passed by:

I remember seeing a large group walking in one line through the village. It was around June 22. They didn’t go to the border, they went away from it. And they were escorted by Iranian security forces. We understood that they had failed in their attempt to cross the border and had been arrested. We also learned that eight Afghans from the group had been returned to their country.

A resident of the village of Karkush, located just three miles from Balesur Sofla, told the JowharObservers team that in recent weeks there has been an increase in the number of migrants, especially Afghans, on the roads leading to the Turkish border.

He filmed a video, published online on May 12, showing a group of dozens of migrants trying to cross the border just 900 meters from his village. While the passage of migrants was reduced at the time, many Afghans had already begun to flee, fearing the violence that could ensue after the withdrawal of US troops. US President Joe Biden confirmed on April 14 that he would continue the withdrawal process urged by his predecessor Donald Trump.

This screengrab from a video posted on May 12 shows a group of several dozen migrants heading for the Turkish border near the village of Karkush, just two kilometers from where the first video was shot. © YouTube

Independent Turkish journalist Rusen Takva has filmed other arrivals of migrants from the Turkish side of the border.

Artik güneş doğdu. Geçiş yapan mültecilerin bugün için son grubu. Bir dahaki geçiş gece olacak. Buy a lokasyon aynı ve bu kez 50 kişilik bir grup geldi. Afgan mülteci: “Savaş var, Taliban köyleri aldı bizde mecburen kaçtık” diyor.

— Ruşen Takva (@RusenTakva) July 13, 2021

The video above, which was filmed in Özalp district, shows about 50 Afghan migrants walking after crossing the border from Iran into Turkey. ‘There is war. The Taliban have taken villages and we have fled,” said one of them.

‘At least 500 people enter Turkey illegally every day’

Violence in Afghanistan has prompted a large number of Afghans to leave the country, with many heading for Turkey, according to a representative of a Turkey-based organization helping migrants. Due to the increasing xenophobia and fierce debate on the subject, the representative, Babak G. (not his real name), wished to remain anonymous and not reveal the name of his small association.

We have never received so many messages. Dozens of Afghans write to us every day. They ask us for information about administrative procedures in Turkey, but they also want advice on how to get to Europe, for example.

Our conservative estimate is that there are currently at least 500 illegal entries a day into Turkey, the vast majority of which are Afghan. Migrants are already much more numerous in the summer, after the snow has melted, which makes the crossing less dangerous. Recently, however, the numbers have risen sharply. Usually there were about 150 to 200 people crossing every day.

In Kabul, there are reportedly between 1,000 and 2,000 passport applications per day. These Afghans generally apply for visas in Iran, where they leave in hopes of reaching Turkey and then Europe through illegal channels.

‘It is common to see very large groups crossing the road, sometimes 100 or 200 people on foot’

There are many different migration routes from Iran to Turkey, at different costs and risks. Families, or those with more resources, prefer to cross in the summer to avoid the cold and snow. They go in small groups, for discretion and speed. Some of them use horses to travel and carry their belongings. But it is common to see very large groups crossing, sometimes 100 or 200 people on foot, especially young men. The average cost of the crossing is around $500 [or €420].

Most of them avoid the areas where the wall was built and prefer the more remote, mountainous areas. But some groups don’t hesitate to dig small tunnels under the wall, cut the barbed wire at the top, or simply cover themselves with cloth to climb over the wall without being cut.

Screengrab of a video broadcast on Turkish television channel TRT, showing part of the wall erected on the Iran-Turkey border. © TRT Haber

The real danger comes during the winter crossing, with many potential migrants freezing to death in the mountains.

Once they arrive in Turkey, 60% of them stay for at least a few months to earn money to finance their next trip to Europe. Then they face various problems as Turkey does not grant them refugee status.

Single men have almost no chance of legal status, they cannot go to university, cannot receive treatment in public hospitals and are forced to work illegally. Only families can hope to be documented, provided they are not arrested when crossing the border illegally, or shortly after. If so, the government does not hesitate to deport them to Afghanistan.

According to UN data, there were officially 116,000 Afghans in Turkey in 2020. However, this figure only takes into account legal residents and is therefore largely underestimated. Turkish authorities estimate that Afghans make up the majority of undocumented migrants, and associations suggest about 800,000 of them reside in the country. The situation of Afghan refugees is significantly different from that of Syrians, who benefit from refugee status and regulated access to social and humanitarian aid.

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