VAN, Turkey – As Turkey braces for a possible influx of refugees fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover, concern over the potential impact grows, fueled by festering resentment towards refugees who are already sheltering in the country.
Turkey is already hosting 3.7 million Syrians, the world’s largest refugee population, and the mood has deteriorated in recent weeks as videos on social media allegedly showing Afghans entering by the hundreds unhindered sparked the ‘indignation.
According to the authorities, around 300,000 Afghans are also currently in Turkey. Some have been there for several years. They include around 120,000 unregistered people, although the opposition says the number is much higher. Gravestones of those who died after crossing the border dot a city cemetery.
While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party have defended accepting millions of Syrians who have fled conflict in their country, they said a new wave would not be welcome.
“Turkey (…) cannot handle another migratory burden coming from Syria or Afghanistan,” Erdogan said on Wednesday. He also warned European leaders that Turkey would not be a “migrant storage unit” for Afghans trying to reach Europe.
Other Afghans are already arriving. Officials did not give details of the number of days, but say they have yet to see signs of a major increase since the Taliban won. However, the long distances across Iran mean migrants could take weeks to arrive.
Baran was among around 20 people in Van who said Turkey should stop accepting migrants and send back those already in the country.
In the capital Ankara this month, a mob of Turks raided shops and homes owned by Syrians following a scuffle that resulted in a young Turk being fatally stabbed.
“The border is in the spotlight”
Most of those who spoke to Reuters in Van said migrants are hurting the economy, while locals face double-digit inflation and unemployment.
Authorities have tightened the border with Iran to prevent Afghan migrants from entering, but some are still passing through. Police have also arrested thousands of Afghan migrants already in the country in recent weeks.
They are being taken to repatriation centers but are currently not being returned due to the unrest in Afghanistan.
“If the government took the necessary measures, there would be no migration,” Mehmet Serif Karatas, 54, said outside a textile store in Van, a transit point for most Afghans entering Turkey.
Opposition parties have also criticized Erdogan’s administration for failing to secure the border. Last week, the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), installed giant banners on its buildings, which read “The border is honor”.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the West could try to strike a new deal with Turkey in exchange for money, similar to Turkey’s 2016 deal with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for billions of euros for refugee projects.
“How … did thousands of Afghans cross the border and come to Turkey and who authorized it?” We have to blame those who allow it, ”Kilicdaroglu said Wednesday. “They’re doing it for money.”
Selami Kiye, a 48-year-old trader from Russia’s Van Bazaar, said Europe or other countries should welcome migrants. “Let them go elsewhere. We don’t care about them, ”Kiye said.