Van, Turkey – Fields of Afghan clothes and Iranian SIM cards litter under the mountains standing between the Turkish and Iranian border.
A plume of smoke rises from a small fire left several hours ago.
As the Taliban infiltrated villages and cities in Afghanistan over the past few months, families fled in large numbers, many traveling to Iran and Turkey.
In the past, this route was clogged with refugees trying to go to Europe in search of security and freedom. It is now full of people making a last-ditch effort to survive in Turkey, where they receive no humanitarian aid and risk being arrested and deported.
We meet 16-year-old Abdul Tawab outside the park, where he sleeps in Central Van, a city famous among tourists for its vast lake and among refugees for its proximity to the Iranian border.
Tawab had arrived in Turkey two weeks ago in the hope of looking for an Istanbul job. But like many other men and boys in the park, he is now out of money and is stuck in the van here.
Tawab says he’s afraid he’ll be arrested if he draws attention to himself outside, so we walk a sloppy path through the markets until he’s safe at an upstairs table in a cafe. doesn’t feel
In Afghanistan, Tawab supported five siblings and their parents on their carpenter’s salary, which was about $1 a day. He left the house after the Taliban broke into his village and gunned down his uncle, killing the beloved father of nine.
“He didn’t care whether people were rich or poor,” says Tawab. “He was liked by everyone, and everyone liked him.”
Tawab says Taliban fighters on motorcycles later wrapped his uncle’s body in barbed wire and deposited it in a field. The refugees say the terrorists will kill anyone affiliated with the Afghan government or foreign organizations, or anyone identified as the Hazaras, a Shia ethnic group and the country’s largest religious minority.
Tawab’s uncle Saranwal Nadir was a lawyer in a government court.
“We found him in the field,” Tawab says. “His body was lying in pits of water and blood.”
beginning of crisis
Turkey already hosts 3.7 million refugees, more than any other country in the world. But despair is growing among the population, and many believe the crisis is only the beginning.
Twitter in Turkey is full of rumors about people coming from Afghanistan. Some say refugees are driving rising crime rates or dismal pay. Another commonly heard complaint is that they are mostly young men, as evidenced by online videos.
Afghan youth say women and children are mostly in safe homes, hidden from cameras by the same smugglers who drive men out into the streets, sometimes surrounded and deported.
When the United States pulls out of Afghanistan entirely, says Mahmut Kakan, a lawyer and asylum coordinator, the borders could become even more clogged with people trying to get into Turkey, a relatively safe country whose refugees Has a history of taking and the Migration Commission of the Van Bar Association.
But once in Turkey, there is no clear way to establish legal status and no organizations to support families in need of food or shelter. The UN refugee agency no longer processes asylum claims in Turkey, and claims through government offices can take years.
“They are living in limbo in Turkey,” Kakan says.
At least four flights of sloping concrete stairs, in a two-bedroom apartment in a van, two families from Afghanistan, 12 in total, say they are afraid to go outside. Inside, the apartment is barren, with almost no furniture and only a few plastic bags of clothes and bedding.
Adults only go out when they feel they can get work. But even after a month has passed in Turkey, none of them have got any luck.
The rent here is less than $70 a month, and families say they have already sold all their belongings to pay smugglers $1,000 per person, which is almost the minimum cost to get from Kabul to Van. They had borrowed the rent money last month and don’t know how they will manage in future.
But as soon as America announced he would move out, says Saeed Sanay Sadat, one of the apartment’s residents, he knew he would never be safe at home again, as he worked for an American company.
We point out that the Taliban have captured large parts of Afghanistan in recent months, but that’s not all, and the capital, Kabul, is still under government control. But Saadet says the country’s collapse seems inevitable.
“It’s already happening,” he scoffs, when we ask why he’s so sure.
women and girls
On the edge of a cemetery in vans, rows of shallow graves cover the bodies of those who died trying to flee to Turkey.
Many were among the 61 refugees killed in a shipwreck on Lake Van last year. Other graves are identified only by the location of the border area where the body was found.
As we walk away from the cemetery, Mohammad Mahdi Sultani, an Afghan journalist working with us as a guide and translator, says that people have been risking their lives for a long time to escape from Afghanistan. which has been at war since 2001. American invasion.
But the reason people are migrating is shifting because of the Taliban becoming stronger, he says. His uncle fled his village for Iran as he has two daughters, 19 and 21. When the Taliban arrived, they demanded that families put up flags outside their homes to indicate whether there were any unmarried women or girls inside.
“They say (the Taliban) will marry them,” says Sultani, which means, by force.
Saeed Sadat’s wife, Leena Sadat, says in the crowded apartment upstairs that she remembers her mother’s blue burqa from childhood, when Taliban law required all women to leave their jobs and go out only fully covered. was forced to.
“That’s what will happen if they are in power,” says Lina Sadat. “Women won’t work, and girls won’t go to school.”