Report produced on Afghan Refugees in Turkey: Living Conditions and Reasons to Escape to Europe


 Many a number of Afghans, who have been obliged to flee their country, have sought shelter in Turkey due to its sensitive geographical position. These people have been filing protection applications with the UNHCR. The number of such Afghans asylum seekers in Turkey is 110.764 according to the July 2016 statistics of UNHCR. Fleeing the years-long war, Afghans have taken refuge in Turkey as a third or fourth stop. Due to the negative living conditions brought along by the asylum seekers, and concerns for survival etc. many families have been obliged to migrate to European countries. Living for years in Turkey, Afghan asylum seekers went to Europe in masses through illegal ways in the second half of 2015. As AFGAN-der – Afghan Refugees Association in Turkey, we decided to conduct a study to cast a light on the situation and in this man frame, we applied to Sivil Düşün for funding. Thanks to the aid, we studied the ‘living conditions and reasons to escape to Europe’ of the Afghan asylum seekers/refugees living in Turkey.

The study has been devised on a qualitative design. To this aim, it involved Afghan asylum seekers in Van, Kayseri, Mersin, Kırıkkale, Denizli and Nevşehir. In sampling, we adopted the snow-ball method. Again, we utilized semi-structured interview method from the qualitative research techniques. The data obtained in the study were analyzed through content analysis technique.

The study [showed that] over the course of the last 4 years, UNHCR Turkey Office had cancelled the asylum requests and almost all interviews of Afghan asylum seekers. The new-comers [afghan asylum seekers] had even been denied a date of interview.

Those coming from European countries, are accepted in Turkey as refugees in connection with the geographical limitation clause, and can benefit from all rights arising from the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Legal Status of Refugees; however, those arriving from a non-European country cannot be provided with many rights such as naturalization, choosing of residence, employment and freedom of travel etc., emerging from the foregoing convention. Therefore asylum seekers residing in Turkey are being sent off to third countries, depending on the quotas opened and announced by such countries admitting them. Unfortunately, a majority of the Afghan asylum seekers are not sent off to a third country.

All asylum seekers have hardships as regards the UNHCR process. The lengthy waiting periods and no access to the UNHCR on any circumstances as well as failure in obtaining any information as regards their statuses have been among the most frequent problems. Therefore concerns for the future, psychological issues, even attempts of suicide, are common problems observed."


Afghan asylum seekers who participated in the focus group interviews noted in addition to the difficulties and hindrances they encounter in Turkey, that they have not been included in an integration programme by the international and local CSOs. Assessments on the focus group interviews can be summarised as follows;

Particularly arrival in Turkey of more than 2 million Syrian asylum seekers in the last 4 years, has made the problems of the Afghan asylum seekers more invisible.

Afghan asylum seekers in Turkey are not able to obtain refugee status because of the geographical limitations. Therefore they are unable to benefit from the rights granted in the Refugee Agreement of 1951. Moreover it is uncertain under which of the status of "refugee", "conditional refugee" and "secondary protection" foreseen in the Law on Foreigners and International Protection entered into force in 2014, they fall. There are different implementations as well. As a practical consequence Afghan asylum seekers and refugees who have not been settled in a third country as a result of unilateral practices of the UNHCR, are unable to benefit from rights such as employment, accommodation and social assistance. No long term solutions can be generated for these people and they are unable to meet even the most fundamental needs. Under these difficult circumstances and because of uncertainties and problems they encounter in arriving at the intended third countries, they choose irregular means and pay human traffickers in order to reach Europe. Afghan asylum seekers have been living in uncertainty for 40 years in neighbouring and other countries, even the grandchildren in Iran and Pakistan lack identity cards. The Iranian government has not taken a single step for the residents of these three generations. Afghan asylum seekers who came to Turkey have often not seen a picture they dreamt of, hence due to these uncertainties they headed towards Europe.

Europe is a centre of attraction due to its democracy and legal system which seems credible for the world as well as due to high prosperity. Certainly, Afghan asylum seekers flee due to economic reasons. Although they are provided opportunities in Turkey in primary and secondary education, ratio of Afghan asylum seekers in higher education is extremely low. Out of 110 thousand only 8 are able to enter a university.

In mid-2015 Balkan states opened their borders completely to the refugees by mistake. This has been a good opportunity for the refugees to travel to Europe.

Consequently, we consider it as a reasonable request that human rights organisations and institutions that undertake the responsibility of defending the rights of asylum seekers, take good care of the Afghan asylum seekers. However human rights organisations/bodies have unfortunately lost their interest on the increasing problems of the Afghan asylum seekers. Under these circumstances getting on a boat and risking their lives in the sea in order to reach Europe remains as their only hope."