Tuesday

17th Oct 2017

Investigation

Turkish limbo pushing Afghan refugees to EU

  • Turkey does not recognise Afghan refugees and few are allowed to legally resettle in Europe, pressuring some to resort to smugglers (Photo: DVIDSHUB)

Refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan in Turkey are caught in a legal limbo, pushing some into the arms of smugglers.

Turkey does not give refugee status to anybody from Afghanistan or outside Europe.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The situation arose as far back as 1951, when it opted for a "geographical limitation" in its adoption of a UN refugee convention, which reserves the status only for "persons who have become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe."

Even if the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, takes somebody under their wing, when they get to Turkey they have to pay for their own temporary residence.

Prices hover at around 400 Turkish liras (€171), to be paid every six months - a fortune if you come from an Asian warzone.

They are housed in one of 52 "satellite" cities, located primarily in rural zones, where they sometimes languish for years with few prospects of ever getting Turkish citizenship.

If you want to leave your town, even for a short visit to somewhere else, you need police permission.

If you do not have it and you get caught, you are an "escapee" and you might go to prison.

Those lucky enough to get out of Turkey go mainly to the US, Canada or Australia - the three countries took in almost 7,000 UNHCR-recognised refugees out of 17,000 UNHCR applicants in Turkey last year.

Very few end up in the EU legally, as member states do not want resettled refugees from Turkey.

France, for example, accepted 14 people in 2010, for the first time since 2000.

"The majority [of legally resettled people] are Iraqis and Iranians, who are much easier to resettle because the policy of main resettlement countries prioritizes these nationalities and not the Afghans," said Ana Fontal of the Brussels-based European Council of Refugees and Exiles.

At the same time, the number of Afghan people fleeing conflict and poverty in Turkey is mushrooming.

Iraq used to be the main source. But alongside people from Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Sudan, the number of Afghans increased threefold in 2012 alone, to reach 20 percent of all migrants in the country.

"Many of the Afghans are actually from Iran who are also there in an illegal situation. A lot of the Afghan people from Iran are mainly coming for economic reasons," a source working on migrant issues in Istanbul, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of their work, told this website.

The UNHCR noted that Iran kicked out over 190,000 unregistered Afghan nationals between January and September.

It cited EU economic sanctions as one reason. It also dubbed them a threat to national security.

The Helsinki Citizens Assembly Turkey, an NGO based in Istanbul, estimates that the number of asylum applications in Turkey will soar due to the new Afghan diaspora.

Smugglers offer hope

Faced with no prospect of normalisation of their status in Turkey or of being resettled in Europe or further afield, many Afghans end up in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu neighborhood, where long-established people smuggling groups tempt them with the promise of a better life elsewhere.

Those who take up the offer used to try to get into Greece by crossing the Evros river on the Greek-Turkish border.

The river used to see up to 300 illegal crossings a day.

Some people used to sneak over the river-free land border and queue at the police station in the Greek town of Orestiada, because authorities at the time were handing out 30-day residency passes and then letting them roam about in the country.

But new initiatives - a surge in the number of guards, a wall, a tough detention policy for people who get caught - has seen detected crossings at the land border fall by more than 90 percent.

An Afghan national - speaking on condition of anonymity - who works with migrant smugglers in Zeytinburnu told this website more and more people now target Bulgaria or go further south through the Greek islands to reach mainland Europe.

If they get people into Bulgaria, the smugglers channel them to Montenegro, Bosnia (the border towns of Foca, Cajnice and Gacko) and then into Croatia.

"The flow coming in from Turkey and Greece and then up is just growing," says Gianluca Rocco, who heads the Bosnia office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

New routes opening up

For their part, Bulgarian authorities say the number of migrants detected entering the country from Turkey doubled in October and November of 2012, prompting it to increase patrols.

Most were either Afghan or Syrian refugees.

Bosnian authorities have also registered a "remarkable increase" in the number of irregular migrants coming via Montenegro.

Another route is Bulgaria-Macedonia-Serbia, where the terrain is flatter and easier to cross.

Once in Serbia, people take taxis or buses and cross directly into the EU.

"In the old days, 10 years ago we were used to seeing minivans of people from eastern Europe. Now you see people catching buses and taking taxis and these are people from Afghanistan," the IOM's Rocco said.

This article is the third in a series by EUobserver examining aspects of immigration to Europe.

EUobserver investigative reports

EUobserver's 'Fortress Europe' series looks at refugee and immigration networks operating on the edge of Europe, focusing on the 12.5-km Greek 'wall' completed late last year.

Frontex chief looks beyond EU borders

EU border control agency Frontex is looking to buy drones and satellite images to monitor migrant behaviour beyond the Union's borders.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  3. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  4. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  5. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  6. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  7. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  8. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  10. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  11. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  12. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State

Latest News

  1. Malta shocked after car bomb kills crusading journalist
  2. Spanish and Catalan leaders continue stand-off
  3. May pleads for more as EU makes Brexit gesture
  4. EU united in backing Iran deal, after Trump criticisms
  5. 'Think of the patients!' cry warring EMA-host cities
  6. In Iceland: Europe woos Arctic allies
  7. Austrian voters reject liberal pro-EU status quo
  8. Turkey urges EU not to break off ties

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  2. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  6. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  7. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  9. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  10. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews
  11. EU2017EEEU Finance Ministers Agreed to Develop New Digital Taxation Rules
  12. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China