Turkey has seen a surge in the number of Afghan illegal migrants. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced yesterday that some 41,192 migrants arrived from the Asian country between January to May of this year, and 20,558 of them were deported. The minister said the number of those sent back was unprecedented on a global level.
Turkey has been a gateway to Europe for illegal migrants from Asia and the Middle East. Since last year, it is coping with a new influx of illegal migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The flow of migrants, especially from Afghanistan where there is chronic poverty and security threats, is nothing new but a sudden surge in the spring of 2018 concerned authorities, with nearly 18,000 intercepted in a few months. The number of 41,192 migrants the minister announced is also high compared to some 45,000 Afghan migrants intercepted in all of 2017. Last year, the total number of Afghan migrants reached 100,000.
It is believed that the surge in the number of Afghan migrants is tied both to the aggravating situation in their country as well as human smugglers seeking to make as much profit as they can before Turkey finishes the completion of a border wall to prevent illegal crossings. Their journey is not without risks, however. The bodies of more than 10 Afghan illegal migrants were discovered in mountainous parts of the Turkish-Iranian border a few months ago as the snow thawed in border regions and exposed their frozen bodies. Migrants who manage to get into Turkey are strictly controlled and settled in migrant centers. Nevertheless, some manage to flee and stream into big cities in western Turkey for jobs or to continue their journey into European countries.
Erzurum, an eastern city, is the main hub for migrants from Afghanistan and nearby countries. If they avoid capture in the smaller eastern towns, most migrants arrive in the city either to stay or to head for cities to the west like Istanbul and Ankara.
Turkey is already home to the largest Syrian refugee community in the world with some 3.5 million from the war-torn country. The country has been praised for its policy on refugees and providing services, including health and education. But it complains that the international community does little to help Turkey cope with the financial burden.
Figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released last week show that one in three Afghans has migrated or been displaced in the past six years. A study by the IOM found that since 2012, 3.2 million Afghan migrants and refugees have returned from abroad. The vast majority of them returned from neighboring Iran and Pakistan and the remaining came mainly from Europe and Turkey. Over the same six-year period between 2012 and 2018, 3.5 million Afghans were internally displaced due to armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations or natural disasters, IOM says. In 2016 and 2017 alone, an estimated over a million Afghans were displaced each year. Most people who have fled Afghanistan since 2012 went to Iran. Out of 2.3 million Afghans in total who left the country, 12% or 270,000, went to Europe and Turkey.
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