VAN, Turkey — In the days before the Taliban took Kabul, an Afghan woman sobbed in double prayers on a bench in a bus station in eastern Turkey, her children wailing at her feet.
Fourteen Turkish security and migration officials attacked her and other Afghan asylum seekers as NewsMadura journalists interviewed them, as part of Turkey’s intense crackdown on Afghans arriving in their thousands from Iran and preventing journalists from reporting. about their plight.
“We came out of desperation,” said another Afghan, Gul Ahmad (17). “We knew that if the Taliban took power, they would kill us – either in battle, or they would recruit us. So this was the better option for the family.”
Even before last week’s harrowing scenes of Afghans crowding the Kabul airport to escape the Taliban, many thousands had steadily fled their country by land, making their way some 1,400 miles through the length of Iran to the Turkish border. border. Their own desperate attempts to escape the Taliban have resulted in quieter, but no less painful, scenes at remote border crossings like those in the eastern city of Van.
In recent months, when the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan collapsed, 30,000 Afghans daily left Afghanistan, not all of them, but many across the Iranian border. They have moved to the top of the list of asylum seekers trying to get to Turkey, then Europe, displacing Syrians as the largest group of new migrants to arrive, even as overall migration rates have fallen since the peak of 2015.
With the Taliban in power, all indications are that those numbers will continue to grow as people start selling real estate and talking about permanent exile.
Many Afghans interviewed in recent weeks said they had crossed in large groups – sometimes hundreds of men – but only a small number managed to evade Turkish border guards. Thousands of Afghans had gathered in Iran’s border region, they said.
While the world’s recent violent upheavals have displaced millions of people, be it from Iraq, Syria or parts of Africa, the timing of the final chapter of the war in Afghanistan has left Afghans at the end of the line, and very probably without a story.
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 the homes of Syrians in the capital Ankara. The scale of Turkey’s pushback has increased dramatically since last month, said Afghans, human rights monitors and even government officials.
For Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the burden of hosting so many refugees — including 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 Afghans — has become a burning political issue, especially as Turkey’s economy has deteriorated. He has made it clear that he has no intention of opening the door to more Afghans.
As photos surfaced on social media in recent weeks of columns of Afghan migrants walking through Iran to Turkey, opposition politicians accused Mr Erdogan of negotiating a deal with the European Union, as he had done for Syrian refugees, to to accommodate the growing number of Afghans. who arrive.
Mr Erdogan has often used the migrant threat as leverage in negotiations with the European Union, while his police have long carried out ruthless operations to contain migrant numbers and perceptions at home. But he has also railed against Western countries for expecting less developed countries to bear the migrant crisis.
“Europe, which has become a focal point for millions of people, cannot stay out of this problem by closing its borders tightly to protect the security and prosperity of its citizens,” he said in a televised speech last week. “Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee depot.”
Erdogan warned Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Sunday that his country “will not be able to bear the extra burden” in the event of another wave of migration from Afghanistan. Turkey, he reminded Ms Merkel, “has already taken in five million refugees.”
Afghans interviewed in Van said Turkey had tightened security along its border in recent weeks with a widespread and often violent police operation, rejecting Afghans regardless of their asylum request.
In a single operation in July, more than 1,400 Afghans who had entered Turkey were rounded up and driven back by Turkish border guards and military police, according to a statement from the Van governor’s office.
Hundreds of others, including women and children, have been held in towns in eastern Turkey as they tried to get deeper into the country.
Such evictions violate the international refugee treaty, 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 doesn’t even abide by its own laws, as migrants should be entitled to an appeals procedure before being deported.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They used brutal public punishment, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more about their origin story and their track record as rulers.
According to another Afghan, Abdul Wahid, who was detained at the same time, the Afghan family recently detained at Van’s bus station was sent to a migrant facility and then returned to Iran without due process within days.
In an interview before they were detained, the man, Najibullah, 30, said they had made the arduous three-day trek to Turkey with their 1-year-old twins three times in recent weeks, only to be pushed back each time. The children had lost weight dramatically, he said.
His wife, Zeineb, 20, seemed very shocked by the experience. “It would have been better to stay in Afghanistan and die than take this trip,” she said. They gave their first names only out of fear of their undocumented status in Turkey.
The family, ethnic Uzbeks, had moved out two months ago, in part because the Taliban had taken control of their district in northern Afghanistan. “We had nothing,” Najibullah said. “They would order us to prepare food for them. We could barely feed ourselves.”
Mr Wahid was deported after spending four days in a migrant center and sent a telephone message from Iran about what had happened.
Mr. Wahid lived in Turkey and had come to Van to help his wife and two children enter the country from Iran. They had crossed the border 10 times in recent weeks to try and join him in Istanbul, where he worked in a textile factory, he said, but every time they entered Turkey, the police caught them and sent them back. They were once held in Tatvan, a town more than 100 miles (160 km) from the border, he said.
“My wife asked them for asylum,” he said. “She said she wanted to send her children to school. First they said ok, then they turned her off.”
Many of the Afghans interviewed said they were looking for economic opportunities, but the Taliban advance and assassinations had prompted them to leave. Two of the dozen recently interviewed over two days said they had relatives killed by the Taliban.
A teenager, Ilias, 15, dressed in a bright yellow T-shirt and black jacket, said he and three friends had fled his hometown in Daikundi in central Afghanistan after his father was killed three or four months ago by advancing Taliban forces. .
“The Taliban started attacking our area and people started defending my village, and then my father was killed,” he said. “The three of us are from the same area and we managed to get out,” he said, gesturing to his companions.
They were detained and interrogated by the Taliban en route, robbed by human traffickers in Iran and arrived in Turkey without food or money to continue their journey.