Turkey: Thousands of Afghans swept up in ruthless deportation drive

At least 2,000 Afghans who fled to Turkey to escape conflict and the worst excesses of the Taliban are in detention and at imminent risk of being forced back to danger, Amnesty International said today. The Turkish authorities appear to be ramping up a deportation spree that has seen 7,100 Afghans rounded up and returned to Afghanistan since early April.
The Turkish authorities told Amnesty International that all these returns are voluntary, and that the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has periodic access to places of detention. However, in telephone interviews with detainees in the Düziçi container camp in southern Turkey, where at least 2,000 Afghans are believed to be held, Amnesty International heard how detainees have been pressured to sign documents written in Turkish, which they are unable to understand.
These could be “voluntary repatriation forms,” which the Turkish authorities have previously used in coercive circumstances with Syrian and other refugees. While some families have reportedly been allowed to seek asylum and then released, potentially thousands of people – mainly men – are at imminent risk of being forced back to Afghanistan. Amnesty International also interviewed a man in Kabul who was forcibly deported with his wife and five children, even though they wanted to claim asylum.
“The scale of this crackdown is extraordinary. In recent weeks the Turkish authorities have escalated a ruthless deportation drive which has seen thousands of Afghans rounded up, packed onto planes and returned to a warzone. Thousands more are in detention, being treated more like criminals than people fleeing conflict and persecution,” said Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Refugee and Migrants Rights.
“Afghans in Turkey have made hazardous journeys to escape even greater dangers at home, and forcing them back is both unconscionable and unlawful. Indiscriminate violence routinely claims scores of lives in Afghanistan and no part of the country is safe. There is no doubt that Turkey is under pressure – it has accepted huge numbers of refugees, mostly financed from its own budget –  but these deportations will put lives at risk.”
For each of the past four years, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed or injured in Afghanistan, many in indiscriminate attacks by armed groups.
Turkey has one of the largest refugee populations of any country, including around 145,000 Afghans. In 2018, increasing numbers of Afghans have entered Turkey through the country’s eastern border with Iran, with Turkey’s Ministry of the Interior citing a figure of 27,000 arrivals this year. Turkey has followed the lead of many EU countries by seeking to seal its borders to people seeking asylum, and is currently constructing a 144 km-long wall along the Iranian border, expected to be finished within a year. In the meantime, Turkish authorities have responded to the arrival of increasing numbers of Afghans by detaining them ready for deportation.
On 17 April, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported that 6,846 Afghans had been deported in recent weeks, basing the figure on a written statement from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Migration Management. Today the Minister of the Interior reported that the number had risen to 7,100. Although Amnesty International has not been able to independently verify this number, it is clear that deportations of Afghans are taking place on a vast scale. The Minister of the Interior told media on 23 April that they were aiming to reach 10,000 deportations by the end of the week.
This increase in deportations could be linked to a migration agreement signed between Turkey and Afghanistan on 9 April, in which the two governments agreed a deal to facilitate the deportation of Afghan nationals from Turkey.
At present, at least 2,000 Afghans appear to be detained in Turkey and are at risk of deportation. Amnesty International has received credible information that about 2,000 Afghans are being held in a container camp in Düziçi in Osmaniye province, with potentially hundreds of others at a detention centre in Erzurum province. The legal basis for these detentions is unclear. Given the fact that thousands of people appear to have been apprehended and detained in a short amount of time, there is a high risk that the detention of these Afghans is arbitrary and unlawful.
Amnesty International spoke to two men and one woman detained in the Düziçi camp. “Farhad” (name changed), a 23-year-old lawyer from Baghlan province, said he travelled to Turkey by foot after fleeing forcible recruitment by the Taliban. He was apprehended at the border and had spent around 24 days in detention.
He said:
“They don’t say to us that we will be deported – they say nothing – they invite people to their offices and they take their fingerprints. The paper is only written in Turkish – we can’t read it.  I will never sign that paper, even if they kill me.”
Amnesty International also spoke by telephone to a father of five, deported to Kabul from Turkey’s western Izmir province in mid-April. “Ghodrat” (name changed), a 42-year old man from Kandahar province, said that he and his family refused to sign a paper which they didn’t understand, but were nonetheless forced back to Afghanistan. He said that they were not provided with any financial or logistical assistance upon return.
Ghodrat said:
“The police gave us a sheet to sign, and I refused to sign it. I cried – I was so devastated. We left Afghanistan in the hope of meeting UN people – we thought they would help us. Kandahar is not safe, especially for young children. I thought if I sell everything I had, which isn’t much, I could go to Turkey and register with the UN.”
Under the international legal principle of non-refoulement, Turkey cannot transfer anyone to a place where they are at real risk of serious human rights violations – such as persecution, or torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At present, given the grave security and human rights situation across the country, all forced returns to Afghanistan constitute refoulement, unlawful under international law.
Amnesty International is calling on the Turkish authorities to immediately release all Afghans who are being arbitrarily detained; ensure Afghans have access to national asylum procedures; and halt all returns to Afghanistan, until they can take place in safety and dignity.