Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Terezija Gras from Croatia, Dutchman Hans Leijtens, and Frontex's current interim executive director Aija Kalnaja, are all competing for a job left vacant by the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us