With the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan, Turkey seeks to avert a refugee exodus, with the country already hosting over four million refugees, with about 120,000 of them from Afghanistan, according the United Nations.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pledging to step up diplomatic and security efforts to prevent an Afghan refugee exodus into Turkey. Erdogan, speaking Sunday, warned that the Taliban's victories in Afghanistan inevitably opens the door to more refugees heading to his country.
Erdogan said “Turkey is facing a growing migration wave of Afghans transiting through Iran.” He said, “we will continue to make efforts to bring stability to the region, starting with Afghanistan.”
Erdogan spoke with Pakistani President Arif Alvi at his side, who was visiting Istanbul. The Turkish president said Pakistan, a close Turkish ally, was key to restoring stability in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, Erdogan said he was ready for talks with the Taliban leadership. The Taliban said last week they consider Turkey an ally of Afghanistan. Ankara has also held diplomatic talks with Tehran over the refugee crisis. Turkish officials have accused Iran of sending some Afghan refugees to the Turkish border, which Tehran has denied.
Ali Hekmat, head of the Turkish-based Afghan Refugee Solidarity Association, said many Afghan refugees in Iran are desperate to leave.
“I am expecting that more refugees will be moving to Turkey from Iran because lots of Afghan army and authorities escaped into Iran. Yesterday, the Iranian government sent them back to Afghanistan. So, most of the refugees are afraid [of] Iran pushing them back to Afghanistan. So, it's the best choice to arrive in Turkey, and maybe they will be near Europe," said Hekmat.
Erdogan has declared a frontier wall with Iran will soon be completed to prevent new arrivals. With Turkey already hosting over four million refugees, mainly from the Syrian civil war, analysts warn of rising social tensions in the country.
Last week, hundreds of people attacked Syrian refugees’ homes and shops in a suburb in the capital, Ankara. Recent opinion polls indicate a majority of people want many of the refugees to leave, a stance backed by the main opposition party.
Analyst Asli Aydintasbas said the prospect of a new wave of Afghan refugees poses a major problem for Erdogan.
“It’s a huge challenge and an increasingly divisive issue in Turkish public opinion. There is an overwhelming anxiety in Turkish society about refugees, in general, including some 4 million Syrians. The issue is so explosive in Turkey right now; that would be huge political blow to him (Erdogan) if it were to come out that Turkey was formerly accepting Afghan refugees," said Aydintasbas.
Ankara is expected to continue to step up its efforts to control its borders. But with another significant refugee exodus being widely predicted, time is not on the government's side.