'Hundreds' of Afghans flee to Turkey every day in wake of Taliban takeover

Screengrab of a video published on Twitter July 11, which shows a group of migrants near the border between Iran and Turkey.
Screengrab of a video published on Twitter July 11, which shows a group of migrants near the border between Iran and Turkey. © Twitter

Since American troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken control of large swathes of the country. Many Afghans have been forced to flee violence, some of them making the decision to leave the country. Many are crossing into Turkey, after leaving Afghanistan and travelling through Iran on foot. A recent video, widely shared in Turkey, documents this new wave of migration. 

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At least 500 Afghans have been crossing from Iran into Turkey every day for the past few weeks, according to Turkish media. Most are fleeing the violence and fighting that’s come in the wake of the withdrawal of American troops in early July. 

This is at least a 150 percent increase in crossings from previous summers. In general, summer is a peak period for crossing the border, because it is considered the safest time to make an attempt. 

These new arrivals are joining the four million refugees who are currently living in Turkey, 3.6 million of whom are from Syria.  

Several videos that document – and often condemn – this new migration wave have been circulating on social media in Turkey. The video below, for example, has garnered more than 600,000 views and sparked an angry and xenophobic reaction. It was also picked up by numerous media outlets

“After the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees started to leave their country. Convoys of refugees have started to enter Turkey in groups via Iran,” wrote Rusen Takva, a Turkish journalist who shared this video on Twitter July 11. 

Takva told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the video was filmed by a bystander in early July and that it shows a group of migrants trying to cross the border between Turkey and Iran, which he says is around 1.5 km away. 

There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and many Turks are taking to social media to complain about what they see as a lack of control at the border. Some critics say this “migration wave” will “weaken” the Turkish economy, which is already struggling. Some have also blamed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who struck a deal in the past, agreeing to welcome some migrants to the country in exchange for funds from Europe.

In response to this debate, the Turkish deputy minister of the interior published a statement saying that these videos of Afghan migrants had been “taken out of context” and said that they had been filmed in Iran, far from the Turkish frontier – potentially even at the Afghanistan-Iran or Afghanistan-Tajikistan borders. He also rejected the idea that migrants could “easily cross the border” into Turkey, citing the construction of a 149 km long border wall along the 499 km border with Iran. 

However, the migrants seen in this particular video did not manage to cross the border into Turkey.

'The migrants had failed in their attempt to cross the border and had been arrested'

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to two Iranian villagers who live just a few miles from the Turkish border, where this video was filmed. With their help, we were able to pinpoint the location of the video. It was filmed near the villages of Balesur Sofla, located 3.7 km, as the crow flies, from the border between Iran and Turkey.

We were able to geolocate this photo by examining geographical elements and comparing them with images of locations along the border. Orange shows the shape of the mountain, yellow indicates specific trees and blue shows telephone poles. Pink indicates a large rock formation on the mountain. The coordinates of this location are 38.70690552979099, 44.31337602957149.
We were able to geolocate this photo by examining geographical elements and comparing them with images of locations along the border. Orange shows the shape of the mountain, yellow indicates specific trees and blue shows telephone poles. Pink indicates a large rock formation on the mountain. The coordinates of this location are 38.70690552979099, 44.31337602957149. © Google Earth Pro/FRANCE 24 Observers

While these migrants were indeed near the border, our geolation allowed us to see that they were actually walking in the opposite direction. In the video, they walk towards the right, which in reality is towards the east, which means they are heading towards the interior of Iran. 

A resident of Balesur Sofla, who wanted to remain anonymous, remembers the migrants passing by:

I remember seeing a large group passing by the village in a single-file line. It was around June 22. They weren’t going to the border, they were moving away from it. And they were being escorted by Iranian security forces. We understood that they had failed in their attempt to cross the border and had been arrested. We also learned that eight Afghans from the group had been deported back to their country. 

 

 

A resident of the village of Karkush, located just five kilometres from Balesur Sofla, told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that there had been an increased number of migrants, especially Afghans, on the roads leading to the Turkish border over the past few weeks. 

He filmed a video, published online May 12, showing a group of dozens of migrants trying to cross the border, located just 900 metres from his village. While the passage of migrants was less at that time, many Afghans had already started to flee, fearful of the violence that might occur in the wake of the American troop withdrawal. US President Joe Biden confirmed on April 14 that he would continue the withdrawal process, which his predecessor Donald Trump had pushed for.

 

This screengrab of a video posted on May 12 shows a group of several dozen migrants heading towards the Turkish border near the village of Karkush, just two kilometres from where the first video was filmed.
This screengrab of a video posted on May 12 shows a group of several dozen migrants heading towards the Turkish border near the village of Karkush, just two kilometres from where the first video was filmed. © YouTube

 

Independent Turkish journalist Rusen Takva has filmed other arrivals of migrants from the Turkish side of the border.

 

 

The video above, which was filmed in the district of Özalp, shows about 50 Afghan migrants walking after crossing the border from Iran into Turkey. “There’s a war. The Taliban took villages and we fled,” one of them says.

'At least 500 people enter Turkey illegally every day'

Violence in Afghanistan has pushed a large number of Afghans to leave the country, with many heading to Turkey, according to a representative from an organization based in Turkey that helps migrants. Because of rising xenophobia and the fierce debates around this topic, the representative, Babak G. (not his real name), wished to remain anonymous and not to reveal the name of his small association.

We’ve never received so many messages. Dozens of Afghans write to us every day. They are asking us for information about administrative procedures in Turkey but they also want advice on how to, for example, get to Europe. 

Our conservative estimate is that, at the moment, there are at least 500 illegal entries per day into Turkey, with a large majority of them being Afghan. Migrants already tend to be more numerous in the summer, after the snow has melted, which makes the crossing less dangerous. However, the numbers have risen sharply recently. Usually, there were about 150 to 200 people crossing each day.

In Kabul, there are reportedly between 1,000 and 2,000 passport applications per day. These Afghans generally apply for a visa in Iran, where they leave in hope of reaching Turkey, then Europe through illegal channels. 

'It's common to see very large groups crossing, sometimes 100 or 200 people on foot'

There are many different migration routes from Iran to Turkey, at various levels of cost and risk. Families, or people with more means, prefer to cross in the summer, to avoid the cold and snow. They go in small groups, for discretion and speed. Some of them use horses to travel and carry their belongings. But it's common to see very large groups crossing, sometimes 100 or 200 people on foot, in particular young men. The average cost of the crossing sits at around $500 [or €420].

Most of them avoid the areas where the wall was built, preferring the more remote, mountainous regions. But some groups don't hesitate to dig small tunnels underneath the wall, to cut the barbed wire at the top, or to simply cover themselves with cloth in order to climb over the wall without getting cut.

 

Screengrab of a video broadcast on the Turkish television channel TRT, showing a section of the wall that was erected on the border of Iran and Turkey.
Screengrab of a video broadcast on the Turkish television channel TRT, showing a section of the wall that was erected on the border of Iran and Turkey. © TRT Haber

 

The real danger comes during the winter crossings, with many would-be migrants freezing to death in the mountains.

Once they arrive in Turkey, 60% of them stay for at least a few months to try to earn money to finance their next journey to Europe. They then face several difficulties since Turkey does not give them refugee status.

Single men have almost no chance of being granted legal status, they cannot go to university, cannot be treated in public hospitals and are forced to work illegally. Only families can hope to be documented, provided they are not arrested when they cross the border illegally, or shortly afterwards. If they are, the administration does not hesitate to deport them to Afghanistan.

There were officially 116,000 Afghans in Turkey in 2020, according to UN data. However, this figure only takes into account legal residents and is therefore largely underestimated. Turkish authorities estimate that Afghans constitute the majority of undocumented migrants, and associations suggest that they are around 800,000 of them residing in the country. The situation of Afghan refugees is significantly different from that of Syrians, who benefit from refugee status and regulated access to social and humanitarian aid.