Deadly tragedy lays bare plight of Afghan migrants

Deadly tragedy lays bare plight of Afghan migrants

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Deadly tragedy lays bare plight of Afghan migrants

Celalettin Şahab, head of the Afghan-Turkish Friendship Council, says more and more Uzbek Turks are coming to Turkey. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

The journey of five young men from Afghanistan in search of a better life has ended in death in the basement of a building in Istanbul, bringing the tragedies of Afghan refugees and civil war to light.

Khudaiverdi Saifullah, 21, his brother Inayetullah Saifullah, 27, Nakibullah Varizade, 28, Muhibullah Alim, 25, and Soorash Vahab, 22, were found dead Jan. 1 by one of their relatives.

Leaked natural gas has been deemed the most probable cause of the men’s death, police sources told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

Four of the men had come to Turkey just two weeks ago from Andkhoy village, located in the northern part of Afghanistan’s Faryab province, along the border with Turkmenistan.

Soorash, a civil engineer, was visiting the Istanbul flat for a New Year’s Eve celebration, but mostly resided in the western province of İzmir. The others were searching for jobs as unskilled laborers -something similar to the textile jobs worked by most people from their community residing in Turkey, said Abdulgaffer Sefer, who came to Turkey five years ago from the same village.

Married for three days

Saifullah married Şemsiye Saifullah, a Canadian citizen with Uzbek origins from Afghanistan, just three days before the incident, Sefer said.

Khudaiverdi was getting ready to apply for refugee status and had been collecting his official documents before his death.

More than 10,000 Afghan Uzbeks have come to Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district in recent years, turning the neighborhood into a hub for them, said the head of the Afghan-Turkish Friendship Council, Celalettin Şahab.

“They ran from the civil war in Afghanistan. The economy is awful there, unemployment is so high and Uzbek Turks prefer emigrating to Turkey since we have a familiar culture and there are job opportunities,” Şahab said in an interview with the Daily News yesterday.

Clashes between NATO forces and the Taliban have continued in the country since the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan began following the Sept. 11 attack in the United States. The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces entered Kabul shortly afterwards in October 2001.

"Zeytinburnu is now known as 'the little Turkistan,' but we have problems as well," Şahab said.

Gaining residence permits is one of the more pressing problems for Afghan nationals, which is why they had come with tourist visas, Şahab said.

Şahab said the Afghan-Turkish Friendship Council attempts to convince Afghan-national Uzbeks to return to Afghanistan in order to “not lose the power of [the] population in the country.”

The Istanbul gas distribution agency, İGDAŞ, said the flue connection of the flat was done without their permission and inspection.

Prosecutors, police, firefighters and Istanbul gas authority officials examined the house following the incident.

“The inspection showed that a water heater was connected to the natural gas system without notifying İGDAŞ and a high amount of carbon monoxide was detected in the house. The poisoning was caused by a leak from the wrongly-installed water heater,” an İGDAS statement read.