On a mountainous road leading west from the Iranian border, 22-year-old Sunnatilla Rasulbek trudges through heavy rain, one of tens of thousands of Afghans hoping to find work and security in Turkey before a wall goes up to keep them out. Already 2,000 km (1,250 miles) from his home in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, Rasulbek plans to try to earn some money in eastern Turkey before heading further west to Istanbul in search of a job to support his family back home.
The number of Afghans arriving in Turkey tripled in the first three months of the year to 27,000, driven by conflict and poverty and fears that the route may soon be closing. While the numbers are small compared to the 3.5 million Syrians who have taken refuge in Turkey, the influx will further strain Turkish authorities, who have flown hundreds of Afghans back to Kabul and are building a wall on the border with Iran and a new detention center close to the frontier. That has not deterred Rasulbek, walking with three other migrants on the edge of a highway in the foothills of Mount Ağrı, the snow-capped peak which towers over eastern Turkey and is associated with the Bible story of Noah's ark.
Many of them paid smugglers to get them across the porous and hilly border - often handing over $600 to $1,000, the migrants say. Across the countryside groups of them can be seen walking by the roads with few clothes and possessions. Most appear very young, possibly teenagers.
"There is war in Afghanistan and there are no jobs," Rasulbek says, determined to reach his next destination - the central Anatolian city of Sivas hundreds of kilometers away.
Under a deal signed with the European Union two years ago, Turkey agreed to take back all migrants and refugees crossing illegally by sea into Greece, helping to stem the flow of people arriving in Europe.
It has built a wall along its border with Syria, making it hard for people to reach Turkey from the south. But migrants are still coming from the east.
Government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ says the official figure of 27,000 Afghan migrants crossing into Turkey this year from Iran understates the scale of the arrivals, because many have not been detected by authorities. He said Turkey, which after years of hosting millions of Syrian refugees now talks about helping them return to secure areas in the north of their country, would take a firm line on the latest arrivals. "Turkey as a country will take the same measures to the illegal refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan as it does to refugees from other countries," he told a news conference in Ankara last week.
The 144 kilometer (90 mile) wall Turkey is building on the border with Iran is meant to help stem smuggling and illegal immigration, as well as infiltration by terrorists, officials say. The wall is half built and will be finished in a year.
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