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Turkey Faces Dilemma as Afghan Refugees Start Arriving 

FILE - A family from Afghanistan gather at an abandoned building in Edirne, near the Turkish-Greek border, March 6, 2020.

With the Taliban continuing to make advances in Afghanistan, growing numbers of Afghan refugees are starting to arrive in Turkey. With Turkey already hosting millions of refugees, the government's refugee policy is facing growing scrutiny.

A video purportedly showing Afghan refugees found in the luggage compartment of a bus in Turkey is one of many postings flooding Turkish social media, showing Afghan refugees being smuggled in buses and trucks from neighboring Iran.

Officials and observers believe the numbers of Afghan refugees entering Turkey are estimated at between 500 and two thousand daily – a relatively low number compared to the mass migrant movements that Turkey has seen in the past.

But Huseyin Bagci of the Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara said Turkey’s government has growing concerns that the numbers could surge if the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan.

"The Iranians make their corridors to Turkey, all the Afghan people who run away, come to Turkey. Iran does not accept them and (lets) them go to Turkey. So it's another crisis. The refugee issue will be a very important domestic issue in the coming days," said Bagci.

Ankara is now extending a border wall to secure the whole of its nearly 300-kilometer frontier with Iran.

Turkey already hosts about three and a-half million Syrian refugees and at least a hundred thousand Afghans who fled previous conflicts.

FILE - A group of Afghan migrants rest on a main road after crossing the Turkey-Iran border near Dogubayazit, Agri province, eastern Turkey, April 11, 2018.
FILE - A group of Afghan migrants rest on a main road after crossing the Turkey-Iran border near Dogubayazit, Agri province, eastern Turkey, April 11, 2018.

Turkey has been acting as a gatekeeper for the European Union in exchange for billions of dollars in aid. The deal also gives Turkey substantial diplomatic leverage in its negotiations with the EU. But Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP party, is warning the government against making any new deal with the EU to host more refugees.

Kilicdaroglu said the West has seen that it can turn Turkey into what he describes as an "open prison for refugees.” He said this influx of refugees is a real survival problem for Turkey. He said the issue has two victims: the Turkish people and those he refers to as “our refugee brothers.”

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz added fuel to the controversy, declaring this month that Turkey and other countries in the region are “definitely a better place than Austria, Germany, or Sweden,” for Afghans who are forced to flee.

Ankara has so far not announced its stance towards hosting any surge in Afghan refugees. But ministers in recent days have been extolling the virtues of hosting refugees, claiming they play a vital role in the Turkish economy.

Some disagree. Atilla Yesilada, an analyst for Global Source Partners, said the opposition leader Kilicdaroglu's efforts to block any new refugee deal will resonate in a country where many see a large influx of Afghan people as potentially destabilizing.

All previous polls show regardless of party, Turks want them to go back. So that really strikes a tone with citizens and, more importantly, with the labor that has been replaced by Afghan and Syrian refugees.

A struggling economy hit hard by the COVID pandemic and soaring inflation are already raising tensions in Turkey. Analysts say there are mounting concerns a largescale arrival of Afghan refugees could add to those tensions.