Turkey is deploying soldiers to its border with Iran to stop a potential surge of Afghan migrants fleeing from the Taliban, the Associated Press reported.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that in addition to the reinforcement of troops at the border, a wall under construction is nearing completion. Turkey has already taken in around 4 million migrants, with most Syrian refugees who fled their country’s civil war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government had brushed off any warnings or criticism from opposition parties about an influx of migrants from Afghanistan. Anti-migration sentiment in Turkey is already high as the country struggles with a rough economy and high unemployment that have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erdogan admitted this week that Turkey is facing a new refugee surge, and said his government will work with Pakistan to try to bring stability to Afghanistan.
Irregular arrivals are already up as Afghans who fled weeks and months ago show up at Turkey’s rugged border area after a long trek across Iran. A group of Afghans encountered by AP near the border said they had deserted the Afghan military and fled the country as the Taliban offensive accelerated.
“We came out of necessity. The Taliban have attacked our country and now they control it, we hope that the Turkish government [accept us],” one of them, Feroz Seddiqi, told AP. He explained that they had scaled a mountain to reach Turkey, enduring thirst and hunger.
Nesar Ahmad, another member of the group, said they also experienced looting by thieves who took away their money and mobile phones.
Video images circulating on social media over the past months have shown groups of young men allegedly arriving in Turkey from Iran. Some media reported that up to 1,000 migrants have been crossing the border with Iran every day.
Opposition parties have been calling on the government to “take control of the borders” and prevent a new migration surge.
They have also warned against any new migration agreement between Turkey and Western nations like the one Ankara reached with the EU in 2016. Under that deal, Ankara agreed to prevent the flow of migrants to Europe while the EU for its part promised, among other things, to send billions of Euros to Turkey for the Syrian refugees.
The main opposition party has also claimed that Erdogan struck a secret deal with U.S. President Joe Biden under which Turkey would accept Afghans who had worked with U.S. forces. The U.S. Embassy released a statement on Wednesday saying the claims are “completely without foundation.”
Akar, who inspected the border with Iran on Sunday, said that some 62,000 people were prevented from crossing that frontier since the start of the year.
“We will intensify our efforts and reinforce the understanding that our borders are impassable,” he said.
Yeni Safak newspaper, which is close to the government, reported that a 155-kilometer (96-mile) stretch of a planned 241-kilometer (150-mile) wall has already been erected at the border. Nearly 200 watch towers equipped with electro-optical surveillance have also been constructed, the paper said.