From above, the new border wall separating Turkey from Iran looks like a white snake winding through the barren hills. So far it only covers one-third of the 540km border, leaving plenty of gaps for migrants to slip across in the dead of night.
Traffic on this key migration route from central Asia to Europe has remained relatively stable compared with previous years, but European countries, as well as Turkey, fear that the sudden return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan could change the situation.
Haunted by a 2015 refugee crisis fueled by the Syrian war, European leaders desperately want to avoid another large-scale influx of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan. Except for those who helped Western forces in the country’s two-decade war, the message to Afghans considering fleeing to Europe is: If you must leave, go to neighboring countries, but do not come here.
“It must be our goal to keep the majority of the people in the region,” Austrian Minister of the Interior Karl Nehammer said this week, echoing what many European leaders say.
EU officials told a meeting of interior ministers this week that the most important lesson from 2015 was not to leave Afghans to their own devices and that without urgent humanitarian help, they will start moving, a confidential German diplomatic memo obtained by The Associated Press said.
Austria, among the EU’s migration hardliners, suggested setting up “deportation centers” in countries neighboring Afghanistan so that EU countries can deport Afghans who have been denied asylum even if they cannot be sent back to their homeland.
The desperate scenes of people clinging to aircraft taking off from Kabul’s airport have only deepened Europe’s anxiety over a potential refugee crisis.
The US and its NATO allies are scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who fear they will be punished by the Taliban for having worked with Western forces.
However, other Afghans are unlikely to get the same welcome.
Even Germany, which since 2015 has admitted more Syrians than any other Western nation, is sending a different signal today.
Several German politicians, including Armin Laschet, the center-right Union bloc’s candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, last week warned that there must be “no repeat” of the refugee crisis of 2015.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “Europe alone cannot shoulder the consequences” of the situation in Afghanistan, and that members “must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows.”
Britain, which last year left the EU, said that it would welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and resettle a total of 20,000 in coming years.
Besides that, there have been few concrete offers from European countries, which besides evacuating their own citizens and Afghan collaborators, say they are focusing on helping Afghans inside their country, and in neighboring countries such as Iran and Pakistan.
Europe “should not wait until people stand at our external border,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johanson said.
Greece, whose scenic islands facing the Turkish coast were the European point of entry for hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others six years ago, has made it clear that it does not want to relive that crisis.
Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi on Wednesday last week said that Greece would not accept being the “gateway for irregular flows into the EU,” and that it considers Turkey to be a safe place for Afghans.
Such talk makes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan see red.
His country already hosts 3.6 million Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Afghans, and he has used the threat of sending them to Europe for political leverage.
“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse,” Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday last week.
The Turkish president talked about migration from Afghanistan in a rare telephone call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday last week and also is discussing the issue with Iran, a statement from Erdogan’s office said.
Attitudes toward refugees have hardened in Europe following the 2015 crisis, fueling the rise of far-right parties like the Alternative for Germany, the biggest opposition party in parliament ahead of a federal election next month.
Even in Turkey, refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, once treated like Muslim brethren, are increasingly viewed with suspicion as the country grapples with economic problems including rising inflation and unemployment.
Acknowledging the public’s “unease” about migration, Erdogan noted how his government has reinforced the eastern border with Iran with military, gendarmerie, police and the new wall, which has been under construction since 2017.
Journalists near the Turkish border with Iran have encountered dozens of Afghans in the past week, mostly young men, but also some women and children.
Smuggled across the border at night in small groups, they said they left their country to escape the Taliban, violence and poverty.
“The situation in Afghanistan was intense,” said one young man, Hassan Khan. “The Taliban captured the whole of Afghanistan, but there is no work in Afghanistan, we were compelled to come here.”
Observers say there are no indications yet of any mass movement across the border.
Turkish authorities say they have intercepted 35,000 Afghans entering the country illegally so far this year, compared with more than 50,000 in all of last year and more than 200,000 in 2019.
Metin Corbatir, head of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration, said there has been a small increase in arrivals across the border from Iran recently, “but there is no mass migration.”
Farha Bhoyroo, who works for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Iran, gave a similar assessment of the Afghan-Iranian border.
“So far numbers are quite stable,” Bhoyroo said. “We have seen a slight increase in Afghan refugees coming to Iran, but we don’t qualify it as an influx.”
The UN agency estimates that 90 percent of the 2.6 million Afghan refugees outside of the country live in Iran and Pakistan. Both countries also host large numbers of Afghans who left in search of better economic opportunities.
By comparison, about 630,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in EU countries in the past 10 years, with the highest numbers in Germany, Hungary, Greece and Sweden, Eurostat data showed.
Last year, 44,000 Afghans applied for asylum in the 27-country bloc.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary-General Jan Egeland said that it is not a forgone conclusion that the Taliban takeover will result in a new refugee crisis.
“I would warn against a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Egeland told reporters.
Afghans are “scared, bewildered, but also hopeful that a long, long war will be over and maybe now they can avoid the crossfire,” he said.
A lot depends on the Taliban allowing development and humanitarian work in the country, and on donor nations continuing to fund those efforts, he added.
“If you would have a collapse of public services and if there would be a major food crisis, there will be for sure a mass movement of people,” Egeland said.
Local media reported earlier this month that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) criticized President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for referring to China as a “neighboring country,” saying that this is no different from a “two-state” model and that it amounts to changing the cross-strait “status quo.” I find it quite impossible to understand why civilized Taiwan continues to tolerate the existence of such a deceitful group that believes its own lies. The relationship between Taiwan and China is the relationship between two countries, and neither has any jurisdiction over the other — this is the undeniable “status quo.” Those who believe in the
With the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, China has remarketed its East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) concerns. Beijing urged the Taliban to make a clean break with the movement and asked the US to blacklist it again. While some are still debating whether the movement exists, it is not the core of the matter because its existence neither justifies China’s Uighur policy nor sheds light on its concerns after the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. Is China really worried, and if so, is it because of the movement? This question needs to be answered. When Chinese officials first acknowledged
On Thursday, China applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — a regional economic organization whose 11 member countries have a combined GDP of US$11 trillion. That is less than China’s 2019 GDP of US$14.34 trillion, so why is China so eager to join? China says there are two main reasons: To consolidate its foreign trade and foreign investment base, and to fast-track economic and trade relations between China and member countries of the CPTPP free-trade area. China’s bilateral trade with these countries grew from US$78 billion in 2003 to US$685.1 billion last year, mostly because of China’s 2005
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) talked on the telephone on Thursday last week, the first time the two leaders have done so since Biden assumed the presidency. While each side sought to put their own gloss on the content of the conversation, some common ground did emerge. Biden reportedly said that both sides have a joint responsibility to ensure that competition between the US and China does not spiral into conflict and that there is no reason that the two nations are destined to fall into this trap. The day after the phone call, the Financial Times reported