Erdogan sends troops to the Iranian border to prevent access for Afghan refugees

Turkey shields its borders amid fears of a new migration crisis, claiming it is unable to take in more displaced people
turquia afganistan refugiados

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The threat of a new migration crisis triggered by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has triggered a battery of disparate reactions in Europe. One of the key positions has been that of Turkey, defined by President Erdogan, which acts as a gateway to the old continent. So far, the Turkish government has rejected outright the entry of thousands of Afghan refugees into the country and is beginning to shield its borders to prevent the entry of new migrants at all costs.

The Ottoman leader declared on Sunday that Turkey "would not be Europe's refugee warehouse", refusing to play the role it played during the migration crisis of 2015, itself caused by the war in Syria. The country currently hosts a total of 4 million displaced people from Syria, one of the highest numbers in the world, according to the United Nations. In addition, Turkey is currently hosting a total of 182,000 Afghans, which is why Ankara claims to be unable to take in more migrants.

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Brussels interpreted Erdogan's declarations as an appeal to the EU to negotiate the renewal of the migration agreement, but the EU is aware of the difficulties that the Turkish leader is experiencing. The economic situation in Turkey is delicate as a result of the devaluation of the lira and galloping inflation. These conditions are worsening the standard of living of citizens and, in turn, are fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

The Ottoman leader held a telephone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel on Sunday to formally convey Ankara's position. "We should not be expected to take responsibility for third countries," Erdogan said. He took the opportunity to criticise the performance of member states in the evacuation efforts in Kabul: "They only open their doors to a tiny fraction of the people who have served them and are in need".

turquia afganistan refugiados

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of displaced Afghans are heading for the Turkish border through Iran with the ultimate goal of reaching Europe. UNHCR puts the number of Afghan nationals displaced since the beginning of the year at 400,000, although only a fraction have managed to leave the country. The Turkish government's response to the influx of migrants has consisted of a full-scale shield against the arrival of migrants. The Minister of Defence, Hulusi Akar, declared the first part of the construction of the border fence that marks the division between the Islamic Republic and Turkey to be complete, and announced that troops would be sent to the area.

Turkey fears a new flood of migrants. A fact that explains the construction of a wall that is currently 155 kilometres wide and three metres high, adorned with ditches, barbed wire fences and 24-hour security patrols. However, the conditions do not prevent attempts by displaced persons to cross the wall. So far, Turkish forces have prevented 69,000 migrants from entering and arrested more than 900 suspected human traffickers.

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The Ottomans have not been alone in building walls. Neighbouring Greece has erected a 40-kilometre fence on the border with Turkey equipped with a surveillance system. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also discussed the issue with Erdogan and they agreed to tighten access. Both countries took on much of the migration crisis of 2015, and avoid taking charge of the new scenario contrary to the recommendations issued by humanitarian aid and human rights groups.

Ankara agreed in 2016 to bear the burden of migrants trying to enter Europe and to cut off new migration routes. In return, Brussels would extend €6 billion in aid, ease visa restrictions for Turkish citizens and bring Turkey closer to EU membership. Five years on, Brussels' rhetoric has changed. German chancellor Angela Merkel's successor, Amin Laschet, has spoken out against welcoming a new wave of refugees. The rise of far-right movements across the continent, the threat of terrorism and a list of counterproductive consequences are threatening leaders.

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It is not, however, Europe that bears the brunt of the burden of Afghan refugees. Figures show that about 1.5 million Afghans currently live in Pakistan. This is the third largest refugee population in the world, without taking into account that the United Nations estimates the number to be even higher, even more than three million. It is a country with which Ankara hopes to establish cooperation in this area.