As Afghans flee, Turkey is accused of deporting them without a fair hearing

By Dorian Jones - RFI
NOV 26, 2022 LISTEN

As elections approach and politicians play to fears over the number of refugees in Turkey, a new report by Human Rights Watch accuses Turkish authorities of indiscriminately deporting Afghans regardless of the dangers awaiting them in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

These are dangerous times for Ahmad, not his real name.

His name is being withheld for security reasons. Once a US-trained pilot fighting the Taliban, he has been in Istanbul for the last year, waiting for his American asylum application to be processed. But as he explains, he now lives under the shadow of deportation back to Afghanistan.

"I know of people that have been deported, and a few of them were former military personnel," Ahmad says. "The Taliban say they have forgiven the former government military personnel, but they haven't. We hear the news that they are still looking for them, and they're still getting killed and kidnapped.

"I was a pilot in Afghanistan, and my deportation will cause a serious risk to my life. When you're deporting an Afghan back to Afghanistan, it's not only you are just deporting a person, you're putting somebody's life at risk."

Thousands deported

In a slickly produced video posted on Twitter and other social media, Turkey's Directorate General of Migration Management proudly announced the latest deportations of Afghans by air. The total now stands at over 54,000 for this year, while another 240,000 were pushed back at the Iranian border or denied entry.

A Human Rights Watch report released this month accuses authorities of using coercion and indiscriminately deporting Afghans without properly considering their claims to asylum. 

"What we are seeing is that these people are generally rounded up in cities in big police operations, put in removal centres, and then coerced into signing or accepting return voluntarily – so-called voluntarily. If you beat somebody enough, they're bound to sign a form," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The title of the report, "No one asked me why I Left Afghanistan", refers to the fact that nobody in the report was offered the chance to file a claim for asylum, she explains.

The Turkish authorities strongly deny the charge of coercion and say they comply with international standards.

Pre-election fears

The Human Rights Watch report also strongly criticized the European Union for failing to share the refugee burden with Turkey more equitably, and called for an end to EU countries pushing back refugees from their borders.

Turkey hosts nearly four million refugees, mainly Syrians. However, with growing public discontent over refugees and elections due next year, the Turkish government is wary of allowing the number to rise. 

"The Turkish government is afraid of a new wave of Afghan refugees," believes Ali Hekmat, the head of the Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association. More Afghans are arriving in Turkey now than Syrians, he says, and Turkish authorities fear that millions more will head to the country from other neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

Fringe opposition parties regularly release anti-refugee videos on social media, while the main opposition is also taking a hard line on the issue.

Opinion polls indicate that after inflation, the presence of refugees is ranked as voters' main concern.

'Race against time'

The round-up of Afghans is expected to intensify as elections approach. Authorities also announced many Afghans in Istanbul will not have their residence permits renewed – including Ahmad. 

His permit expired this month, leaving him in a precarious situation.

"I'm scared any time I'm walking in the street, I'm scared that police may ask for a document and I don't have it," he says. "So I may face deportation. I'm very scared of being deported back to Afghanistan."

But Ahmad says his final interview for his application for asylum in the United States is only weeks away, offering hope of being reunited there with his wife and four children.

"It's a race against time," he says.
The coming weeks could decide Ahmad's life: deportation back to Afghanistan and possible death – or the hope of a new life with his family.