ANKARA: In a bid to stop the flow of migrants, Ankara has decided to expand the construction of a security wall along its border with Iran to cover the entirety of the 295-km frontier amid rising public discontent after an increased number of Afghan migrants entered the country from Iran.
The Turkish government has reportedly been pursuing its wall project since 2017.
So far, 149 km have been completed, spanning several border cities, including Agri, Hakkari, Igdir and Van.
Over the recent weeks, thousands of Afghan migrants, as well as smugglers, have been increasingly using Turkey’s eastern border province of Van to reach Europe, and authorities have now focused their attention on constructing the wall along this city.
“So far, only a 3.5-km section of the structure has been completed,” said Van Gov. Mehmet Emin Bilmez.
More security measures, like watchtowers, wireless sensors and trenches, will also be installed across the length of the Iranian border after the rise in Afghan asylum-seekers fleeing the Taliban amid instability following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. More soldiers have also been deployed for border checks.
Sixty-four km of the wall between Van and Iran are set to be completed by the end of the year.
In the past, Turkey has accused Iran of providing a safe harbor for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members inside its territory and for turning a blind eye to their illegal crossing and smuggling attempts from the land border.
The hi-tech security wall is also related to Turkey’s cooperation with the EU to stifle immigration flows into EU countries under the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee deal. Brussels agreed last month to allocate €3.5 billion ($4.2 billion) to help refugees in Turkey until 2023.
In a bid to halt new migration flows from Syria, Turkey has already built a land wall along its border with Syria, considered the world’s third-longest wall after the Great Wall of China and the US-Mexico border wall.
Turkey hosts more than 4 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but Afghans comprise the second-largest refugee population.
The new wave of migration from Afghanistan via Iran has triggered reactions from Turkish society’s anti-refugee segments and sparked debate on the effectiveness of border security policies.
Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration President Metin Corabatir believes that building walls will not solve the problem of illegal immigration.
“It is a disincentive to a certain extent, but it is impossible to cover the entire 295-km border with Iran with walls, considering the physical characteristics of the region. People take all sorts of risks to reach Greece despite the border control mechanisms of the EU,” he told Arab News.
From a humanitarian perspective and considering international refugee rights, Corabatir noted that it is not possible to deny people fleeing repressive regimes a sanctuary, although the international community asserts that they are mainly economic migrants seeking decent living standards.
“In addition to Afghans, Iranians fleeing from their regime, as well as Iraqis, are also attempting to cross the border from Van. We cannot push them back if they have a reasonable asylum request,” he said.
“There is a need for controlled management and identification of those who are escaping security risks. We cannot close our doors to them,” said Corabatir.
Although there are no official statistics regarding Afghan migrants in Turkey, the number is believed to be more than 500,000 with the recent flows, with hundreds more crossing the border each day.
Unlike Syrian refugees, most Afghans are mainly trying to reach European shores rather than settling in Turkey, a fact that concerns the EU.
“The Turkish government committed to improving conditions in the removal centers for refugees in its latest human rights action plan,” Corabatir said.
“There are also plans to encourage the voluntary return of Afghan refugees by providing them with a certain amount of money to help them establish a life back in their home country,” he added.
Turkish authorities caught over 25,000 Afghan migrants in the first half of this year. The situation is becoming more and more polarized, however, with leaders of the opposition parties urging the government to send them back to their country and blaming the government for “turning Turkey into an open prison for refugees.”
Experts also note that ensuring the security of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is of key importance in order to be able to deliver humanitarian aid to the country and to prevent Taliban insurgents from expanding their zones of influence as US troops pull out.
Negotiations over Turkey’s proposal to operate and secure the key international airport in Afghanistan continue.