Refugees from Afghanistan arrive in North Kurdistan

The unchecked advance of the Taliban is driving many Afghans to flee. More and more refugees are stranded in North Kurdistan.

The situation in Afghanistan is becoming more dramatic by the day. The Taliban are taking over large areas of the country, and many are left only to flee war and Islamist terror. According to the UNHCR, 270,000 people have been displaced in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year. This means that there are about 3.5 million internally displaced persons in the country itself. Many of them scrape together their last savings or get into debt and set out to leave the country. More and more Afghans are stranded in the provinces of Van and Bitlis in North Kurdistan, but also in western Turkey.

No right of asylum in Turkey

Turkey has ratified the Geneva Convention on Refugees only with a regional reservation. This means that in Turkey the right of asylum only applies to people from Europe. Refugees from Syria are usually temporarily tolerated, while people from Afghanistan are detained and deported. This was the case for a 16-member family from Herat who left Afghanistan after a relative had been killed by the Taliban. The family was stuck at Istanbul airport for nearly three weeks and has now been placed in deportation detention.

"Afghans have no basic rights here"

The land route in particular is used to get to Turkey via northern Kurdistan and then, if possible, on to Europe or to find work in Istanbul. In Van, correspondents of the British Guardian newspaper were able to identify at least 1,900 people who had crossed the border within two nights.

Mahmut Kaçan, a board member of the Van Bar Association and a lawyer specializing in asylum law, says: "Afghans are living in limbo here, they don't even have basic rights. In 2013, the UN stopped the resettlement of Afghans from Turkey to third countries. This now only takes place in extremely vulnerable cases."

Refugees are forced onto increasingly dangerous routes

As a result, refugees are forced onto increasingly dangerous routes. In addition to border fortifications and the particular threat to women of sexual violence by smugglers and fellow travelers, refugees are repeatedly dying during overland transport. Just last week, at least twelve people died in an accident involving an overloaded van, and up to one hundred more refugees drowned in Lake Van last year after their boat capsized.

Van as the first point of contact in Turkish territory

The province of Van with its huge inland waters is located on the Turkish-Iranian border and thus represents the first point of contact on Turkish territory for people who want to flee to Europe from the wars in the Middle East and Asia. The border and the region are highly militarized due to the war. With the help of EU reconstruction aid, one military base was built next to the other at intervals of a few hundred metres. The military often works together with commercial escape helpers, especially with criminal gangs who expose refugees in the high mountains, thus profiting from the refugees' precarious situation.

An average of between 1000 and 1500 people from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Central Asia come to Van every day. According to official figures, 40.180 migrants were apprehended at the border last year. A far greater number fall into the hands of traffickers.