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Afghan Refugees in Turkey Hope for Relocation, Fear Deportation

FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2021, photo, Afghan migrants sit in the countryside in Tatvan, in Bitlis Province, eastern Turkey.
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2021, photo, Afghan migrants sit in the countryside in Tatvan, in Bitlis Province, eastern Turkey.

Edris Niazi had "a normal life," back in Kabul, working as a government employee, but his life "turned upside down" after the Taliban seized power in 2021.

Niazi, 32, is now working as a welder in Turkey’s Kayseri province with "no future," as he fears being deported to Afghanistan.

"There is no way that I return to Afghanistan," Niazi said. "My life is in danger, and I would try whatever it takes to go to a third country, either through legal or illegal routes."

Many urban, educated Afghans like Niazi escaped after Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban.

According to the U.N., more than 1.6 million Afghans have fled since August 2021, bringing the total number of Afghan refugees in the neighboring countries to 8.2 million.

More than 300,000 Afghan refugees live in Turkey. Many of them, like Niazi, are hoping to be relocated to a third country.

"Turkey is not the place that one would like to stay in it permanently," Niazi said. "Turkey serves as a bridge" for refugees hoping to go to Europe.

Waiting for relocation

Many Afghan families in Turkey have been waiting for resettlement in third countries for years.

Munir Mansoori, who fled with his family to Turkey in 2016, is still waiting to be relocated to a third country.

"We have tried all the venues [for relocation] but our efforts have yet to yield results," said Mansoori, who worked as a journalist with Ariana TV back in Afghanistan.

"Here in Turkey, we can’t work in our profession. We can’t work here. It is a different country with a different culture and language," he said.

He said that he is afraid of deportation as his life would be in danger in Afghanistan.

"I am afraid of being deported. I received threats because I was hosting a music show in Afghanistan before coming to Turkey," he added.

Ali Hikmat, the co-founder of the Afghan Refugee Solidarity Association, told VOA that in just one week in November, "Turkey arrested 820 Afghans in the eastern part of Turkey and deported them by air to Kabul."

Hikmat added that Afghans are also pushed back to Iran via the land border.

Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkey was "routinely" pushing back tens of thousands of Afghan refugees to Iran or sending them back to Afghanistan, "with little or no examination of their claims for international protection."

Based on the information provided by the Turkish authorities, HRW reported that Turkey deported 44,768 Afghans by air to Kabul in the first eight months of 2022.

Worries about education

Shabnam Mohammadi was in high school in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat when the Taliban seized power in 2021.

She, together with her parents and three brothers, left Afghanistan two months after the takeover and crossed the border to Iran and then to Turkey.

Mohammadi told VOA that as soon as the family reached Turkey, they "applied for relocation [to a third country] but heard nothing."

"It is difficult here. We left everything behind and had to start from the beginning," she said, "We can’t go to school. We don’t have a future here and can’t go to Afghanistan."

Mohammadi added that the family still hopes to be resettled in a third country where she and her brothers can attend school.

"But now that we are in Turkey, it is not clear what is going to happen to us," she said.

Mohammadi said that she would not be able to go to school or work if she returned to Afghanistan.

After seizing power in 2021, the Taliban banned girls’ secondary and university education. Women are also barred from working with NGOs, going to parks and gyms and long-distance traveling without a male chaperone.

"Like everyone else," Niazi said, "I would like to go to a place where my daughter can get an education. I want her to have a better future."

This story originated in VOA’s Afghan Service.