The number of forcibly displaced people in the Middle East has peaked in the last 40 years. In particular in the last decade, according to official figures at least 5 million Syrians have been sheltering in Turkey.
In the last two years Afghans fleeing from the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government have also been seeking refuge in Turkey.
Unlike Syrian refugees, most Afghans coming to Turkey do not want to go to Europe, they want settled status in Turkey. After all the dangers they have faced on the journey, they just want to settle in cities like Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara.
Lawyer Bawer Mızrak, chair of the Refugee Rights Commission of the Diyarbakır (Amed) bar, has been studying their situation. Refugees fleeing from war-torn situations of this type should be granted status, otherwise the exploitation of the refugees will be inevitable, Mızrak told ANF.
Mızrak notes that people have been fleeing war and conflict throughout history, and many pass through Turkey and Kurdistan on the way to Europe, the most poignant example of this being from the Syrian war.
He continued: “The Afghan dimension started in the 1980s when some Afghans came to Turkey fleeing the war in Afghanistan. This has continued and has reached serious dimensions in recent years. Following images on social media, we as the Refugee Rights Commission organised a visit to the bus station, where there were many Afghans.”
Mızrak said that the migrants paid from $800 to $1,000 to be brought to the border by people-smugglers. “They walk most of the way. They do not get stopped at the border… It takes about a month from Afghanistan to Diyarbakır, during which they have serious problems with shelter and health.”
Mızrak said there were about 1,000 refugees in the compound at Diyarbakir bus station: “They are living there with no shelter or food aid. There are women and children among them, but they are mostly young men between the ages of 15-25. They come because of economic problems and because their lives are in danger, all because of the increasing violence of the war… They want to go to the big cities to join relatives and to work. Of course this situation creates a cheap workforce and paves the way to exploitation. There is also a possibility of them being used by paramilitaries.”
Mızrak stressed that the refugees are classed as ‘irregular migrants’, ie, those with no status: “As such, they have no rights at all. They may not use a hospital, except in an emergency, and they are not given food or shelter by the state. So they need legal status.”
“Turkey recognised the status of refugees with the Geneva Convention. But it only accepts refugees from Europe… A definition of ‘Temporary Protection Status’ was developed for the Syrians in 2014, but this is only applicable to mass migration. If the Afghans come in much larger numbers, Turkey should give the Afghans the same status as it did the Syrians.”