Iran’s Role in the New Afghan Migration Wave to Turkey

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Harun Basli
harun.basli@gc4ss.org

Expert
Global Center for Security Studies

Since the early 2018, thousands of Afghans have immigrated illegally from Iran to Turkey. This new wave of migration over the last few months has attracted attention, as it has reached relatively large proportions, compared with the previous years.

Afghan Refugees by flckr

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Afghan asylum seekers and refugees who have enrolled until the end of March 2018 in Turkey is 169.919, where officially registered Afghans are the second largest immigrant group after Syrians in this country. The number of Afghan refugees registered with UNHCR worldwide is 2.5 million in total.

In Afghanistan, due to the long years of struggle against security and economic problems, millions of Afghans have abandoned the country and migrated to other countries, mainly to Iran. The increasing deterioration of security and economy in Afghanistan in comparison with the past years is one of the reasons for increasing Afghan migration.
The wave of Afghan immigration to Iran, started soon after Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979, has continued even after the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989, and is still continuing as a result of the insecurity in the country stemming from the civil war. In this process, even though some of the Afghan asylum seekers returned to their countries, but the ongoing violence and insecurity in Afghanistan has forced many Afghans to flee again.
Although according to the official records there are 1.5 million Afghan asylum-seekers in Iran, with so many informal Afghans living in the country, there are in fact approximately 2-2.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran.

In their experiences in Iran, Afghan immigrants, who are about to complete their 40th year in this country, are considered to be highly beneficial to Iran in various business sectors and for different purposes. Afghans, seen as cheap labor, are employed without insurance, since most employers do not want to assume the social security obligation.

The number of Afghan immigrants who were born, grown up, educated or got into the business life in Iran, and have not seen Afghanistan is over 700,000. Since the beginning, Iran has refrained from giving permanent residency or citizenship to the Afghan immigrants and aimed to prevent Afghan men from wedding with Iranian girls by putting legal obstacles before the marriage.

Afghan refugees is being used as fighters in Syria

As a result, tens of thousands of children were born from the thousands of unofficial religious marriages in the country, where the citizenship and residence permit of these children has remained as an unresolved problem.
Afghan immigrants in Iran was dispatched in the past to the Iran-Iraq war and are still being sent nowadays to the battlefields in the wars of Syria as a militia with various promises, like receiving citizenship or permanent residence for themselves and for their families. In this regard, the Iranian parliament issued a law. According to this law, those who participate in wars in the name of Iran and lose their life while fighting will be buried in martyr cemeteries, and citizenship will be bestowed on their families.

The existence of Afghan refugees in Iran, which is struggling with economic problems, also sometimes causes debate. Regarded as a serious burden for the Iranian economy, Afghan migrants in Iran have been exposed to exclusion, humiliation and discrimination since the very first day. Hence, despite the cultural and religious closeness between Iranians and Afghans, it is hard to claim that Afghan asylum seekers have been able to integrate into the Iran society for nearly forty years.

security measures taken against illegal immigration have been lessened by the Iranian border security forces

As a result of heavy sanctions that will be imposed on Iran in the upcoming period, it seems that not only those who use Iran as a transit route from Afghanistan, but also Afghan migrants living in Iran will move westward.
In this context, as expressed by some Afghan migrants who detained after entering Turkey illegally, the most notable aspect of the new Afghan migration is the fact that security measures taken against illegal immigration have been lessened by the Iranian border security forces. This shows that Iran has a critical role in this new migration wave. Despite this route, also known as the drug transit route, is strictly controlled by the Iranian authorities, this immigration boom taking place for a while strengthens the impression that Tehran is suspiciously silent on this matter.

Also, claiming that it could have harmful effect on the environment, the Iranian authorities’ objection to Turkey’s efforts to build a border wall between the cities of Igdir-Agri on the ground that Turkey turned into a major transit route for migrants is not taken seriously by the Turkish authorities.

Afghan refugees will affect first Turkey and then inevitably other European countries.

In the current situation, in case Turkey does not take necessary measures such as signing of readmission agreement with Iran and Afghanistan in the coming days, it is expected to continue to increase in mass migration flows to Turkey via Iran. It is obvious that Iran’s this policy regarding Afghan refugees will affect first Turkey and then inevitably other European countries.

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