Photo: Ariana News

Turkey Joins Pakistan and Iran in Deporting Afghan Refugees

Turkey has joined Pakistan and Iran in deporting thousands of Afghan refugees back to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, despite the dire humanitarian situation and human rights violations in the country.

Ankara has announced it deported about 3,900 Afghan refugees to Kabul through special flights over the past week.

Turkey is a major transit destination for Afghan refugees seeking to migrate to Europe. It hosts one of the largest refugee communities in the world, with over 3.6 million Syrians and 300,000 people from other nationalities, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan. Last year, Turkey deported some 50,000 refugees back to Afghanistan.

A 2022 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that Turkey routinely pushes back undocumented Afghan refugees to Iran or deports them directly to Afghanistan, with little or no regard for their claims for international protection. In interviews with Afghan refugees in Turkey, HRW found that Turkish police have been detaining large numbers of undocumented refugees and often coercing or deceiving them into signing voluntary repatriation forms and then deporting them to Afghanistan.

Turkey’s deportation of Afghan refugees is happening amid large-scale deportations of refugees from neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Over the past month, an estimated 400,000 Afghan refugees have been deported from these two countries.

Pakistan launched a nationwide operation on November 1 to deport over 1.7 million Afghan refugees who are living in the country illegally. An estimated 10,000 people are returning to Afghanistan through the Chaman and Torkham borders each day. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 327,000 Afghan refugees have been deported to Afghanistan since mid-September. Pakistan has opened new border crossings to speed up the process and has stated that the deportations are intended to counter-terrorism.

Pakistan has restricted the movement of goods through the port of Karachi for Afghan traders and limited the amount of cash refugees can take with them, leaving more than 4,000 cargo trucks stuck at the port waiting to return to Afghanistan. The Pakistani Interior Ministry previously announced that refugees can only take 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($175) out of the country. Pakistan has so far rejected calls from international rights groups and Western countries to reconsider its deportation plan or to identify and protect those refugees who risk persecution at home. The Taliban has also asked Islamabad to give refugees enough time to leave and to treat them with dignity.

Afghanistan’s western neighbor, Iran, which has also hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades, deported over 21,000 refugees last week who were attempting to enter the country illegally. According to the IRNA News Agency, Iran deported over 328,000 Afghan refugees in the first half of the year.

The mass deportation of Afghan refugees from neighboring countries and Turkey has raised fears of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, as the country struggles to cope with hundreds of thousands of returnees arriving and staying in makeshift tent villages on the border at the onset of winter.