This week, Turkish officials confirmed that 1,456 undocumented migrants have been detained near Turkey’s southeast border since July 10—the majority of which are Afghan. Those detained by security forces are but a small sample of the hundreds of Afghans crossing Turkey’s borders each day in what is becoming a mass exodus of Afghanistan. The influx of migrants comes amid escalating violence between the Taliban and Afghan government, as the U.S. prepares to withdraw all troops by September 11 of this year.
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 270,000 Afghan citizens have been displaced from their homes this year alone, bringing the total number of displaced individuals to more than 3.5 million. Roughly 12 percent of Afghanistan’s population lives outside the country’s borders, and that number is only growing. While most refugees reside in Pakistan or Iran, more and more Afghans are seeking asylum in Turkey—and for good reason.
“Afghan refugees have mostly no other place to go. In Iran, the economic conditions are very bad, and they have gained a negative viewpoint on Afghans; we are not welcome there,” said Ali Hikme, co-founder of the Afghan Refugee Solidarity Association (ARSA), a non-profit dedicated to assisting Afghan refugees settling in Turkey. Hikme goes on to say, “Pakistan has its own problems. Afghans just want a safe life, away from insecurity, poverty, and unemployment. Now that the Taliban has strengthened, we are preparing for a new wave of refugees to arrive in Turkey.”
With more than 4 million migrants, Turkey is the world’s leading host of refugees. Although the vast majority are from Syria, Afghans currently comprise the second largest group of refugees in Turkey at an estimated 200,000. Undocumented migrants arrested after crossing the border have the opportunity to apply for asylum, however it is likely that most will not be accepted, and instead, returned to Kabul via plane, despite the increasingly treacherous circumstances in Afghanistan.
With the U.S. hastily preparing to depart from Afghanistan, and conflict escalating between an emboldened Taliban and the Afghan government, it is imperative that NATO allies maintain peace efforts previously upheld by the U.S. Particularly, it is critical that they follow through on their commitment to increase security measures for Kabul’s international airport, such that it can maintain operation and safely transport humanitarian aid workers and undocumented refugees returned from Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran.
Additionally, NATO Allies—in cooperation with the EU—must prioritize funding and development of migration programs in Turkey to better manage the inevitable influx of refugees. The EU’s current pact with Ankara, established in 2016, emphasizes Turkish border control and includes the construction and implementation of a border wall, observation towers, floodlights, and wireless sensors. Although border security is key to maintaining the nation’s safe and prosperous living conditions, the EU’s current deal incentivizes Turkey to close its southeast border and serve as a gatekeeper for Europe. In turn, fewer refugees will be able achieve asylum, and more will be subject to forcible return.
“There is a high risk that EU funds are used to support activities that may lead to refoulement or other violations, if a chunk of the money is earmarked for border management and border control,” warned Catherine Woolward, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels, while speaking to The Guardian.
Last month, foreign ministers of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran met to discuss energy, security, and migration. However, according to reporting by Reuters, Turkish diplomatic sources claim that specific migration management policy between Ankara and Tehran has yet to be determined. For the safety of Afghan refugees, and the continued prosperity of Turkish citizens, migrant programs need to be immediately prioritized by foreign ministers of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran, as well as among NATO Allies and the EU. But above all, the escalation of violence between the Taliban and Afghan government must cease. Both parties need to immediately return to the negotiating table to protect the rights and safety of Afghan citizens.
In a statement to the Security Council, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons called upon the international community and opposing parties to reiterate the importance of civilian protection measures. “Human rights are non-negotiable,” Lyons stressed.