Freedom Road: A hostile journey awaits Afghans fleeing the Taliban | Afghanistan

IIt is a treacherous journey of thousands of miles across arid deserts, steep mountains, rivers, armed checkpoints, barbed wire and meters of concrete walls. But for Afghans fleeing the Taliban, this uncomfortable road – crossing PakistanAnd Iran, Turkey and the Balkans – in their belief the path to freedom.

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban This month, after weeks of Fast consecutive victories across the countryThe instinct of many Afghans was to escape by any means possible.

Some worked in the previous government or US forces and NATO forces and believe that it is only a matter of time before they become so Hunted by Taliban fighters. Others fear the Taliban will impose the same strict interpretation sharia law in the country as before, keeping women imprisoned in their homes, targeting minorities and carrying out public executions. There are also growing concerns that Afghanistan is heading towards a humanitarian crisis Lack of foodand drought and There is no money in the banks.

Afghan refugee road

However, the message from all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and most of Europe, where most people hope to reach, has been that Afghan refugees are not welcome. Pakistan has completed the construction of a wall along its porous border with AfghanistanTurkey has built a 93-mile (150 km) wall along its border with Iran, and Greece has just built a border wall. “Our country will not be a gateway to Europe for illegal Afghan immigrants,” said Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarashi.

However, the Afghans have persisted. Since the withdrawal of US forces in May, the United Nations migration agency has reported a 40% increase in the number of people crossing the border into Pakistan, usually the first stage of the journey. Organizations on the ground in Afghanistan have said they expect a mass exodus to begin in the coming weeks as more and more desperate Afghans have taken their chance to try to reach Europe, usually by paying large sums to people smugglers.

Astrid Sleten, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Afghanistan, said: Chaotic crowds at Kabul airport Over the past two weeks, with thousands of Afghans – many without passports and papers – They are calling for evacuation flights, was indicative of the “level of desperation to leave.”

“I would expect this to be a humanitarian catastrophe, and when that happens, people will flee,” said Slaten. And when people feel despair, the limits are nevertheless Iran And Pakistan won’t mean anything.”

Afghans walk past barbed wire fences as they arrive in Pakistan through Chaman border crossing point
Afghans arrive in Pakistan via Chaman border crossing point. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The most common illegal overland route among human traffickers is known as the Golden Crescent, which is also famous for drug smuggling. Afghans are transported across the desert of Nimroz province across the border into Pakistan’s Balochistan region.

From here they move south, then cross into Iran from cities like Mushkil, navigating through the hostile mountainous terrain between the two countries. There are many entry points into Iran, but all take the refugees to Iranshah, where they make an arduous 1,400-mile trek across the country and are disembarked near the Van border region of Iran. Turkey.

Two smugglers confirmed to The Guardian that there was a sharp rise in demand. “We have seen a boom in human trafficking after Taliban Someone said. “Previously, at least 50 vehicles carrying refugees entered Pakistan from Nimroz province. But now at least 150 or more vehicles enter Pakistan via the Golden Crescent Road.”

Despite pledges by the Pakistani government to keep refugees away, some have recently been able to use the Spin Boldak-Shaman border crossing, which has remained open for those traveling as patients or visiting their families, where 6,000 people cross daily.

According to Reza Rowesh, a Hazara activist, about 10,000 people from the Afghan Shiite Hazara minority, members of whom were recently tortured and killed by the Taliban, have crossed the border into Pakistan in recent days. Most of them now live in mosques, marriage halls and relatives’ homes in Quetta, and many are considering trying to reach Europe.

Another smuggler said Pakistan’s recent efforts to fencing its border with Afghanistan have done little to prevent people from crossing illegally, often on foot. “It is impossible to fence off mountains and deserts,” he said. “We have people at all entry points to receive refugees and take them to the next destination.”

Afghan refugee road

The most dangerous route for Afghan refugees is to cross directly into Iran from Nimroz and Herat provinces. But this is closely guarded and more dangerous; In May, Iranian border guards were accused of drowning 50 Afghan refugees. Iran has been accused of collaborating with the Taliban in recent days to stem the flow of Afghans trying to enter the country, with dozens captured and deported to Afghanistan.

Turkey, which has long been seen as an entry point into Europe, has also launched a fierce campaign against Afghan refugees trying to cross from Iran. The country already hosts 4 million Syrian refugees and the anti-refugee mood is palpable. Afghans who recently reached the country’s newly built three-meter-high concrete border wall are violently arrested and sent back to Iran.

Ali Hekmat, coordinator of the Solidarity Association with Afghan Refugees in Turkey, said: “In the past two months, there has been a huge media campaign against Afghan refugees in Turkey, calling on the government to stop them. So now the government has sent many troops to the border with Iran, even those who They crossed to Turkey, are captured and returned to the Iranian side.

Migrants from Afghanistan hide from security forces after crossing illegally into Turkey from Iran
Migrants from Afghanistan hide from security forces after crossing illegally into Turkey from Iran. Photo: Murat Sezer/Reuters

Even Afghan refugees in Istanbul are subject to arrest and deportation. It’s very difficult to cross now.”

Wealthier immigrants arriving in Turkey can choose to take a sailboat from the western Turkish resort of Izmir to the eastern coasts of Sicily and Puglia, but the cost can exceed €8,000 (£6,800) per passenger.

With Greece After completing a towering border wall and bolstering their border resources, the only option for most Afghan refugees is to walk the Balkan Route, one of the most dangerous and arduous passages toward Europe. He takes them through Bulgaria, then North Macedonia or Serbia, then Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, where they can finally reach Italy or Austria.

The journey could take months and be marred by freezing temperatures and illegal returns by Croatia’s border police, who in recent years have been accused of beating, torturing and even sexually abusing migrants.

“Afghans are currently the second most spread nationality on the Balkan route,” said Laura Longarotti, the UN Migration Agency’s chief of mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and coordinator in the Western Balkans. “After what happens in Kabul, we expect their numbers to increase in the coming weeks and months.”

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