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Migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, queue for lunch at a deportation center in the city of Van, eastern Turkey, near the border with Iran. August 22, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Emrah Gürel

On October 18, 2022, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Turkish authorities setting out our findings and inviting a response by November 1. On November 17, we received a response from the President of Migration Management, which is available here.

(Ankara, November 18, 2022) – Turkey is routinely pushing tens of thousands of Afghans back at its land border with Iran or deporting them directly to Afghanistan with little or no examination of their claims for international protection, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 73-page report, “‘No One Asked Me Why I Left Afghanistan,’” says that Turkey has stepped up pushbacks and deportations to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover there in August 2021. Human Rights Watch also found that Afghans inside Turkey are being blocked from registering for international protection and that Afghans facing imminent deportation are often given no opportunity to make refugee claims. As of October 20, 2022, the Presidency of Migration Management in Turkey’s Interior Ministry reported 238,448 “irregular migrants whose entrance to our country has been prevented” in 2022, most of them Afghans. Turkey reported deporting 44,768 Afghans by air to Kabul in the first eight months of 2022, a 150 percent increase over the first eight months of 2021. 

“Although Turkey has rightly earned international acclaim and support for hosting the largest number of refugees of any country in the world, it is simultaneously pushing many Afghans back at its borders or deporting them to Afghanistan with little or no examination of their claims for international protection,” said Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey should immediately halt these routine pushbacks of Afghans from its borders and give all Afghans facing removal the opportunity to make refugee claims.”

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees of any country in the world, an estimated 3.9 million people, 3.6 million Syrians with temporary protection and 320,000 others, mostly Afghans.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 68 Afghans, 38 of whom described 114 pushback incidents between January 2021 and April 2022. All the men and boys travelling without female family members personally experienced or witnessed Turkish authorities beating or otherwise abusing them and others who were with them. Many also said that Turkish border authorities shot in their direction, sometimes at them, as they approached or attempted to cross the border.

“I told them I was a journalist, that my life is at risk, and that I wanted to go to Europe not stay in Turkey, but they didn’t listen to me,” said a 25-year-old journalist from Paktia Province, recalling his pushback experience on August 30, 2021, shortly after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. “They beat us with batons, and with the kind of iron stick that is used for construction.” The journalist recalled the Turkish border guards waiting to see when there were no Iranian guards on the other side and then pushing him and 29 others back across the border.

Since taking power, the Taliban have imposed severe restrictions across Afghanistan, carried out revenge killings and enforced disappearances of former government officials and security force personnel, detained and beaten journalists, summarily executed alleged Islamic State fighters, and failed to protect groups targeted for attack by the Islamic State, such as ethnic Hazaras.

None of the Afghan men interviewed who arrived in Turkey without their families since the Taliban takeover had been able to lodge applications for international protection at Provincial Directorate of Migration Management offices. Men who did not present themselves as part of a family group that included women or children were routinely told the offices were closed or were not taking applications from Afghan men, or they were given appointments months later. When they returned, they were still not able to register.

In February 2022, Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Çataklı said registrations for international protection would not be accepted in Ankara, Istanbul, and 14 other provinces. He also said residency permit registrations would not be accepted from foreigners for any neighborhood in which 25 percent or more of the population were foreigners. In June, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced that from July 1, the proportion would be brought down to 20 percent and that 1,200 neighborhoods would be closed to registration.

Meanwhile, police and gendarmes have been detaining significant numbers of undocumented Afghans, and often coercing or deceiving them to sign so-called voluntary repatriation forms, then deporting them to Afghanistan. The Turkish government insists on maintaining the fiction that they are all voluntary returns.

Human Rights Watch found that many Afghans facing imminent deportation are given no opportunity to make refugee claims or otherwise challenge their deportation, and their signatures or fingerprints on voluntary return forms are often forced, obtained through deception, or forged.

Pushbacks violate multiple human rights norms, including the prohibition of collective expulsion under the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to due process in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the principle of nonrefoulement under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which prohibits the return of refugees to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened. Turkish law also prohibits refoulement.

Because Turkish authorities block access to asylum, forcibly return people who appear to be refugees, and commit other abuses against migrants and people seeking international protection, Turkey does not meet the criteria of a safe third country provided by EU law under Article 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive, Human Rights Watch said.

“No EU member state should deny access to asylum for Afghans or other nationals under the pretense that Turkey would be a safe third country for them,” Frelick said. “EU’s migration management support to Turkey should be made conditional on demonstrated assurances that such support doesn’t contribute to denying people their right to seek asylum or to returning them to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.”

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