Locals in Istanbul were recently shocked to see hordes of young Afghan men in worn out uniforms, strolling aimlessly down neighborhoods that were already home to thousands of Syrian refugees. Later, Turkish police detained and expelled nine of the men. Hundreds of others are communicating with their relatives and friends in Afghanistan and Iran and most likely updating them on the illegal migration routes into Turkey -- Afghans would typically pay smugglers $1,000 for the trip from Kabul to Van in eastern Turkey. With the victory of the Taliban and the collapse of the Afghan government, hundreds of thousands may be crossing via Iran into eastern Turkey, finally seeking the least dangerous (and least costly) route into European Union soil.
After the United States fully pulls out of Afghanistan, Turkey's border with Iran will be packed with people trying to get into Turkey. But once in Turkey, there is no clear path to establishing legal status and no organizations at all to support families in need of food and shelter. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) no longer processes asylum claims in Turkey, and claims through government offices can take years.
With the collapse of Afghanistan, Turkey is facing a new wave of Europe-bound migrants.
Turkey is facing this new wave of illegal immigrants when it is already hosting 3.6 million registered Syrian migrants, already 4.37% of Turkey's total population. Today, more than a million Syrian children, aged 5-17, or 63% of total, are attending Turkish schools. In the past three years, 120,000 Syrians became Turkish citizens. They own shops, run businesses and live in predominantly Syrian ghettos in Ankara and Istanbul.
In three Turkish provinces (Gaziantep, Hatay and Şanlıurfa) Syrians account for more than 20% of the population. In the Turkish province of Kilis, they make up 74.3% of the population.
Turks, with a poor per capita income of $8,000, are already weary of cheap, illegal Syrian workers taking their jobs. Now that the Afghan migrant threat is so visible on Turkish streets, Turks are discovering the virtues of a fresh surge of nativism. There are already signs that this nativism can turn violent.
On August 12, police in Ankara detained 76 people in connection with attacks on homes and businesses believed to be owned by Syrians, after a Turkish teenager was killed in a fight with a group of migrants from Syria. A mob, hundreds-strong, took to the streets of the Altındağ neighborhood. They were throwing stones at Syrian migrants' homes, ransacking some shops and chanting anti-Syrian slogans. The scene looked like a Muslim-on-Muslim pogrom.
The first 10 years of Syria's civil war created 6.5 million asylum-seeking migrants from a population of 22 million. Afghanistan's population is 75% larger than Syria's at the start of its war. And Afghans are facing possibly the world's most brutal army of radical Muslims, now installed in Kabul, and armed with what US President Joe Biden said were "all the tools... and equipment of any modern military. We provided advanced weaponry," which the Taliban has captured from the disintegrating Afghan National Army.
Biden has, in fact, bestowed "advanced weaponry," courtesy of US taxpayers, not only on the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, but also on Russia, China and Iran, who will doubtless now reverse-engineer the abandoned materiel.
Afghans have good reasons to flee their country by the millions.
Afghans have good reasons to flee their country by the millions. Iran is their typical first stop.
Once in Iran, they are given easy and safe passage to Turkey -- that is Iran's gift to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey is already home to nearly five million migrants. The arrival, over years, of another five million would paralyze Turkey, its economy, politics and relative safety. But Afghan migrants will not be only Turkey's problem.
At the peak of the Syrian crisis, 1.3 million Syrians requested asylum in Europe. By nationality, in 2015, they were the biggest group among migrants of different nationalities arriving from Turkey into Greek territory. Five years later, Afghans have taken the lead. And this is before the biggest Afghan wave has even started.
Greece and EU should get ready for another inflow of migrants from Turkey.
In 2020, Erdoğan threatened to flood EU countries with millions of Syrians. His government transported thousands of Syrians to Turkey's border with Greece in Thrace, opened the gates and pushed them into the no man's land. Within the first week, the Turkish government claimed, nearly 200,000 Syrians had entered Greece. The real number was just a couple of thousand. Erdoğan's bluff had failed. Since then, he has not tried another Turkish government-sponsored migrant dump onto Greek territory.
All the same, if the Greek and EU border agencies do not want to relive the 2015 migrant crisis, they should review their blueprints to protect Greek territory from migrants and get ready for another inflow this year.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.