HRW: Turkish soldiers beat, push Afghan asylum seekers back to Iran

Authorities in Turkey deny Afghans right to seek asylum.

Turkish authorities are summarily pushing Afghan asylum seekers crossing into the country from Iran back to Iran, in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch said today.

Six Afghans, five of whom were pushed back, told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the Turkish army beat them and their fellow travelers – some to the point of breaking their bones – and collectively expelled them in groups of 50 to 300 people as they tried to cross the border to seek safety in Turkey. Some families were separated in the process.

“Turkish authorities are denying Afghans trying to flee to safety the right to seek asylum,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Turkish soldiers are also brutally mistreating the Afghans while unlawfully pushing them back.”

From September 25 to October 11, Human Rights Watch remotely interviewed six Afghans, five of them in hiding in Turkey to avoid being expelled to Iran, and one who had been forcibly returned to Iran for a third time. All had fled Afghanistan shortly before or after August 15, when the Taliban took control of Kabul.

They said they had traveled through Pakistan and Iran, and that Iranian smugglers took them to the mountainous border with Turkey in the middle of the night and told them to run across. Turkish soldiers started firing above their heads and two said that the soldiers brutally beat them.

While one of the Afghans successfully remained in Turkey on his first try and one had been deported back to Iran, the four others said Turkish soldiers forced them back up to three times before they succeeded in remaining in Turkey.

Two said that Turkish forces destroyed their possessions, and those of everyone in the group they were expelled with. “Once they arrested us, they confiscated our phones, money, food, and anything else we were carrying and burned all of our things in a big fire,” one woman said. “I assume they did this to send the message that we should not try to cross the border again.”

One man said they stripped the men in his group down to their boxer shorts and burned the clothes and all their belongings, then forcibly returned them.

One man said that soldiers beat them with the butts of their guns and that several men in his group had broken hands, arms, and legs from the beatings. “It took 10 days for the pain to go away, but for my friend it was worse,” he said. “He had to get our smuggler to take him to a doctor in Iran who treated him for a broken arm and leg.”

Another man said: “The second time I crossed into Turkey I saw the Turkish soldiers beating people crossing with me to the point that they were covered in blood and had big wounds to their heads. They beat me for about 20 minutes with the butts of their guns and sticks, leaving me bleeding.”

While most people interviewed said they were forcibly returned close to the border, one said that he and eight of his relatives were deported after they went to a local immigration office in Turkey. He said they went to the office because they were ill and needed to be allowed to go to a hospital.

“The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), governments, and other actors should monitor, document, and challenge pushbacks at Turkey’s borders. Governments with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Afghan asylum seekers and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Afghans, including those who are unregistered,” HRW said.

“The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Commission, and European states should publicly press Turkey to refrain from summarily expelling Afghan refugees to Iran, where they are at risk of chain deportation to Afghanistan and other serious harms. The Commission should closely monitor developments and take into consideration collective expulsions and deportations of Afghan asylum seekers in its cooperation with Turkey on migration control and for its reports on Turkey’s accession process and on the European Agenda on Migration.”

HRW added; “EU member states should not consider Turkey a safe third country for Afghan asylum seekers and should suspend all deportations and forced returns of Afghan nationals, including to third countries like Turkey where their rights would not be respected,” Wille said. “They should also ensure that Afghans entering the EU via Turkey have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.”