Afghan Refugees Find a Harsh Border in Turkey
In recent months, 30,000 Afghans were leaving Afghanistan every week, not all but many across the Iranian border, according to the International Organization for Migration. They have moved to the top of the list of asylum seekers trying to make their way to Turkey, and then to Europe, supplanting Syrians as the largest group of new migrants arriving, even as overall migration numbers have dropped since the high of 2015.
According to Human Rights Watch, Turkish authorities are summarily pushing Afghan asylum seekers crossing into the country from Iran back to Iran, in violation of international law. Six Afghans, five of whom were pushed back, told Human Rights Watch that the Turkish army beat them and their fellow travellers – some to the point of breaking their bones – and collectively expelled them in groups of 50 to 300 people as they tried to cross the border to seek safety in Turkey. Some families were separated in the process.
“Turkish authorities are denying Afghans trying to flee to safety the right to seek asylum,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch . “Turkish soldiers are also brutally mistreating the Afghans while unlawfully pushing them back.”
As in Europe, the public mood in Turkey has turned against immigrants and refugees, sometimes resulting in violence, such as knife fights and a recent attack on Syrians’ homes in the capital, Ankara. The scale of the pushback by Turkey has increased dramatically since last month, said Afghans, human rights monitors and even government officials.
In a single operation in July, more than 1,400 Afghans who had crossed into Turkey were rounded up and pushed back by Turkish border guards and military police, according to a statement from the office of the governor of Van. Hundreds more, including women and children, have been detained in towns across eastern Turkey as they have tried to make their way deeper into the country.
Such expulsions are against the international convention on refugees, said Mahmut Kacan, a lawyer in Van who specializes in refugee and asylum cases.
Few Afghans know their rights under international law, he said, but Turkey does not abide even by its own laws, since migrants should be entitled to an appeal process before being deported.
“It is not illegal for people to cross borders and seek protection. It is also prohibited under international law to treat people differently based on how they arrive and claim that their method of arrival is illegal,” said Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).