Concerns rise amid rising Afghan migrant flow to Turkey
“Three million refugees are in Iran and trying to come to Turkey. A majority of them are Afghans, coming from east of Iran. We are not saying the Iranian government is helping them move across to Turkey, but it is condoning it. In 2016, 30,000 refugees entered Turkey from Iran from the eastern provinces of Iğdır and Ağrı alone.”
Kaynak was talking about 30,000 people in 2016, but daily Hürriyet recently reported that more than 20,000 undocumented Afghans have entered Turkey in just the first three months of 2017.
The cold truth
Private broadcaster CNN Türk has been doing a series of reports on immigrants from the eastern province of Erzurum for the past week. The reports show women carrying babies and walking down the road from Ağrı to Erzurum in the east. They have crossed mountains and risked their lives to make it to Turkey. Their pockets are empty. They do not have clothing or food. The locals who see them bring them bread, blankets and milk.
Despite the government’s efforts, the flow of migrants has clearly reached a point beyond control.
Their first destination is Erzurum. After trudging all the way to Istanbul they aim to take off for Europe. The official facilities where they should be placed by the authorities when they are caught for crossing illegally into Turkey are currently packed and have no space for more migrants. That is why they are directed to the nearby provinces of Çorum and Yozgat when they are apprehended. The documents they are then given bans their entrance to Istanbul.
Depressing scenarios play out in this human tragedy. The tragedy only gets more complex as we look deeper into it.
Eye-witness reports tell the story
Erdal Güzel, the head of the Erzurum Development Fund, is on top of the situation. Güzel is an altruistic man known locally as the “father of immigrants.”
“There were some people who said they crossed the mountains on foot, walking for four or five days straight. Some said they received instructions not to make any noise even if their companion falls down the mountain while crossing,” he said.
“Migrant traffic has been getting worse lately. The immigration offices in Ağrı and Erzurum are full to capacity. Thousands of people are arriving here on foot. The locals who want to help these people and offer them rides are often viewed as human traffickers. But these people are not allowed on buses,” Güzel added.
Human traffickers often load the migrants onto trucks along with sheep they are transporting. Just last week in the eastern province of Iğdır there was an accident in which 17 were killed and 38 were wounded. All these people were squeezed into a single bus.
Nobody wants to leave their home. But Afghanistan is a difficult place to live. Just yesterday 100 people were killed in an attack. There is the Taliban. There are no jobs. There is no life.
There is no hope left there, but in fact neither the immigration route nor their intended destination offer them hope either. They are discriminated against, targeted, exploited by drug gangs, prostitution rings, and organ mobs.
The performance that Turkey has shown in welcoming and hosting migrants in recent years has been an example to the world. We are still hosting around 3.5 million Syrians who have fled the war in their own country.
But it is easy to understand just from talking to shopkeepers or others in Turkey that the welcome shown is beginning to reach its limit.
“Now Afghans are coming?” This question is slowly making its way into public discourse.
Hopefully, the Turkish government has a plan to manage this latest situation, which could tip Turkish nerves over the edge in the long run. If there is no plan, the current picture does not look good.