Destination Unknown: Afghans on the move in Turkey – Middle East Research Report, June 2020

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Since the late 1970s, the continuous movement of Afghans within and from Afghanistan has been shaped by a combination of security, conflict, political and economic factors. At the end of 2019, around 2.6 million Afghans were internally displaced, while around 2.7 million were registered as refugees, representing the world’s most protracted displaced and dispossessed population under the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Two states neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, host the vast majority of Afghan refugees (88%). Nearly 7% of Afghan refugees are hosted in Europe, for the most part in Germany, Austria, and Sweden.

For decades, Turkey has been a host country and transit hub for hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, who constitute the second-largest group of refugees and asylum seekers registered in the country. In 2018, Turkey experienced a substantial increase of irregular arrivals (those lacking legal documentation) and Afghan nationals constituted the largest group of new irregular arrivals. In 2019, the number of Afghan arrivals doubled, and they remained the largest national group of new arrivals.

Triggered by this increase, this research report aims to improve understanding of the migration experiences of Afghans arriving in Turkey. It outlines key drivers behind Afghan migration and examines the factors influencing short- to long-term intentions, such as decisions to either stay in Turkey or continue onward movement.
The report details living conditions of Afghans in Turkey, focusing on the policy framework that shapes legal and socio-economic factors, while highlighting vulnerabilities and protection challenges they encounter.

The research for this report consisted of three phases, starting with desk research: collecting and analysing relevant literature, legal and policy documents, policy briefs and reports. After preparation of data collection tools, the second phase mainly involved conducting fieldwork in six provinces (Van, Erzurum, Adana, Konya, Izmir and Istanbul). In each location, the research team simultaneously collected quantitative and qualitative data by conducting surveys, in-depth interviews (IDIs), and focus group discussions (FGDs) with Afghan refugees and migrants, as well as key informant interviews (KIIs) with officials from relevant provincial institutions and representatives of international agencies and NGOs. The third phase entailed analysing data, validating findings through expert interviews, and drafting. From November 2019 to January 2020, the research team conducted 341 surveys, 27 IDIs, nine FGDs with a total of 69 participants, and 28 KIIs.

A bespoke survey, based on those conducted by MMC’s Mixed Migration Monitoring Initiative (4Mi)1, posed a wide range of questions on issues such as: drivers of migration; decision making; demographics; information on migratory routes taken; protection incidents; use of smugglers and funding of migration journeys; access to information; assistance and access to services; aspirations; and challenges faced in Turkey.

The FGDs, IDIs and KIIs served to complement the survey and reflect upon participants’ general insights and perceptions on their migration reasons and experiences, their current living situation in Turkey, as well as their aspirations for the future. The respondents provided detailed accounts on housing, working conditions, access to education, healthcare and social services, and relationships with host communities.

The findings reveal that the majority of the Afghans surveyed in Turkey are young males who arrived irregularly. They were mainly driven to travel by violence and lack of economic opportunities and access to rights in Afghanistan. For some women, domestic violence, sexual abuse, verbal and physical threats, and forced marriages were reasons for embarking on migration journeys. The main reasons for coming to Turkey are expectations of family reunification, easy and fast access to asylum, economic opportunities, and better living standards. At the time they were surveyed, most respondents were still on the move to another location within Turkey or abroad. Of those who planned to travel on beyond Turkey, many expressed no particular preference for a specific country, saying this was less important than finding safety, a welcoming environment and improved living conditions.

Nearly all respondents came to Turkey via fragmented journeys through Iran and Pakistan, but prior to departure, a majority did not obtain information regarding the routes, destinations, costs, conditions, and risks that their trips would entail. Most also relied on the services of smugglers, who were mainly needed for crossing international borders. Along with problems related to harsh weather and physical conditions of the mountainous route, which had to be taken primarily on foot, Afghans reported witnessing death, physical violence and family separation along the route. Nine out of ten respondents needed very basic assistance during their journey, which was not available in most cases. Despite all the risks and challenges faced, most were determined to move and continue migration.

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