Turkey is deporting thousands of Afghans despite an international outcry about the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been accused of human rights violations.
In January 2022, Turkey was the second country, following Pakistan, to resume direct flights to Afghanistan months after all international flights to the landlocked country were disrupted once the former Afghan government crumbled on August 15.
In the past six months, 79 Turkish chartered deportation flights have landed at Kabul international airport, carrying more than 18,000 Afghans, according to Turkish officials and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The Taliban’s seizure of power last August plunged Afghanistan into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, prompting the United Nations to launch its largest single-country humanitarian assistance appeal for about $4.4 billion in 2022.
The Taliban acknowledge the humanitarian situation but blame international sanctions as the primary cause of the country’s economic problems.
In the four months following the Taliban’s return to power, nearly 840,000 Afghans crossed international borders without travel documents, almost twice as many as during January-August 2021, according to figures compiled by the IOM.
Turkey is a major transit destination for Afghans who seek migration to Europe. At least 23,000 Afghans sought asylum in Germany last year. Turkey also hosts the largest refugee population in the world, 3.8 million, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a report Thursday.
Most Afghans have to cross neighboring Iran to enter Turkey. In 2021, Iran deported 760,000 Afghans.
Refugees blamed for economic problems
The crisis in Ukraine has also forced 145,000 Ukrainians to seek refuge in Turkey.
Amid the large refugee burden, Turkey is also facing severe economic and financial challenges. The Turkish currency, the lira, has lost half of its value in a year and the inflation rate stands at 61%.
“Most Turks, particularly politicians, blame refugees and migrants for the economic problems here,” Sayed Agha Hashemi, a representative of Afghan refugees in Istanbul, told VOA.
A survey by a Turkish research organization in April found that more than 78% of respondents want refugees to be returned to their home countries.
Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023, and some politicians have already started blaming refugees for the country’s pressing economic woes.
One right-wing party, the Good Party, has reportedly adopted the slogan, “Victory will come to power; all refugees and illegals will go.”
There are also social media campaigns blaming refugees for stealing jobs and driving up prices.
Nearly 10 months since seizing power and declaring Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, the Taliban have failed to establish formal diplomatic relations with any country.
While Ankara has kept its ambassador in Kabul, the Taliban, as the de facto Afghan government, have yet to take charge of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in Turkey.
Afghan consular services in Turkey have been disrupted because of a lack of new passports and because the Taliban do not pay the salaries of diplomats appointed by the former Afghan government.
“The embassy and the consulate in Istanbul used to help us in the past, but now we’re officially stateless people and are at the mercy of Turkish authorities,” said Hashemi.
Dost Gul, an Afghan migrant in Istanbul, said he lost his passport last month and cannot obtain a new one. “I’m just waiting for deportation.”
Afghan migrants are sent back to a country where more than 90% of the population suffers from food insecurity and a host of human rights violations.
“We maintain that conditions in Afghanistan right now are not conducive for any type of return,” Safa Msehli, an IOM spokesperson, told VOA.
After Syrians and Venezuelans, Afghans are the third-largest refugee population in the world, with 2.7 million registered in 98 countries, the UNHCR says.