Turkey Shuns Afghan Refugees, And Europe Might Be Next

“As Turkey, we have sufficiently carried out our moral and humanitarian responsibilities regarding migration….. It is out of the question for us to take an additional refugee burden,” said Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Aug. 29. It is the newest in a long line of bad news for the roughly 27,000 Afghan refugees making the dangerous journey through Iran and Eastern Turkey every week. If they manage to navigate the mountain passes and sneak past the border guards alive, they face a country growing increasingly hostile to refugees, and the ones moving forward into Europe don’t fare that much better.

To understand this policy, it is important to understand the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis and it’s political fallout. Turkey took over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other nation, a fact that they repeatedly have used for leverage over the European Union (EU). Reported by NPR, that President Erdoğan’s right-wing policies have inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment, including what can only be described as a pogrom against the Syrian community in Ankara. The president blamed a downturn in the Turkish economy on their refugee burden and has adopted a no-tolerance policy towards their eastern border, even seizing Afghan refugees for repatriation as they’re being interviewed by journalists. Many face death by the Taliban if they return home.

“We came out of despair,” said Gul Ahmad, 17, in an interview from The New York Times. “We knew if the Taliban had taken over they would kill us — either in fighting or they would recruit us. So this was the better option for the family.”

On the other hand, the EU  faced the biggest rise in far-right nationalism since the 1930s. Right-Wing groups spread the conspiracy that the Syrians held foreign and “un-European” values that would lead to the destruction of their culture, some even said that the crisis was part of a “Great Replacement” of white people. Beliefs like these led to the creation of some parties such as the “Alternative for Germany”(AfD) in Germany and the rise of others like Lega in Italy and the National Rally(formerly National Front) in France. These parties rose to success in elections on a hardline anti-refugee platform, with NR’s Marine Le Pen almost becoming president of France. This posed a major electoral threat to the establishment of European parties, and combined with a focus on Syrian migrants, it led to an agreement with Turkey which deported tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in 2016. 

Now, it appears that the EU has taken an even harsher stance on immigration. Greece is going so far as to install cameras and surveillance drones on a Turkish Border wall. Their government stated that Greece will not be a “gateway” for refugees. Many have already pointed out the similarities with our own southern border, but the parallels do not end there. Austriaś interior minister Karl Nehammer (roughly equivalent to the Director of Homeland Security in the US) not only dismissed the idea of taking any refugees, but openly called for deportation centers on Iran’s border with Afghanistan. While some of the EU’s major powers like Germany and France are significantly less hardline, they appear to echo similar sentiment. It was put by Armin Laschet, new leader of Germany’s biggest party the CDU, in a speech on Aug. 16, “2015 mustn’t be repeated”.

The European Union’s common government however, seems to be more pro-refugee. President of the European Commision Ursula von der Leyen offered funds for any European countries willing to take refugees (although she also emphasized that refugees should try to stay in bordering countries first) and called it a “moral duty” to help. The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrel called for the invocation of an obscure 2001 order called the temporary protection directive that will give immediate (albeit temporary) protection to all Afghan refugees. However, the European Parliament is notoriously un-cooperative, and some nations including Austria and Slovenia have stated that they will outright ignore any such order.

The only thing that can be certain regarding the status of Afghan refugees in both Europe and Turkey is that they will face a hostile environment. Whether or not this will change any time in the future remains to be seen, a tragic reality for the hundreds of thousands facing death or poverty.