Van/Bitlis, Turkey, Jul 5 (EFE).- Ahmed and his six friends have been walking for 28 days. They left Afghanistan looking for a future in Europe — today, they find themselves in the middle of an almost deserted area near the Iran-Turkey border. But they are already on Turkish soil.
“I am a Turkmen from Afghanistan. A month ago, we started our journey in Afghanistan, coming through Iran and from there to Turkey. I want to go to Ankara. I will work there. I will send money to my hometown,” Ahmed tells epa.
“Mom and Dad need money. There is no job there, so we have to come here.”
The crossings along the mountainous 540 kilometer-border between Turkey and Iran are protected by a concrete wall, a barbed-wire-topped barrier that stretches for 140 kilometers but which does little to stop thousands of mostly young people fleeing from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran every year to leave conflict, violence and despair behind in search for a better life.
With no prospects of a decent future at home, they are forced to leap into the unknown and gamble on their quest for a dream that for many turns out to be a nightmare.
Irregular migrants risk their lives in the hopes of finding a job in the Turkish cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Afyon, Izmir, Balikesir, and eventually mainland Europe.
According to the Turkish Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Migration Management, some 53,176 migrants have been stopped so far this year until 16 June. The figure is half of the 122,302 registered last year and a major drop from the 454,662 migrants stopped in 2019.
Most of the migrants flee their countries for similar reasons. For Afghans and Pakistanis, war and violence force them from their homelands. For Iranians, they hit the road to Turkey — their main access point to Europe — dreaming of better economic opportunities and escaping the oppressive regime in Tehran.
But the route is fraught with peril and risk, with many joining the growing list of victims of human trafficking in the region.
Many end up in Van, the first city irregular migrants and refugees come to when they make it onto Turkish soil after crossing from Iran. But very few remain there, as for most, the promised land lies much farther west.
Refugees pay between 600 to 1,000 US dollars each to cross, depending on the security situation at the border.
According to smugglers epa spoke to, migrants arrive at the Turkish border after walking in rugged Iranian mountains for days. They get into the country through the districts of Ozalp and Baskale and are kept in safehouses in Van for days.
There, they wait for the contact. If they are lucky they will find shelter under bridges, abandoned shepherds houses or a barn. If not, they must sleep out in the open. Some travel in groups of five, others in 10s. The route and tensions will inevitably force the groups to split. A telephone will be the only form of contact with the smugglers throughout the journey.
Lake Van is a safer route, away from the checkpoints on the highways. The traffickers use boats powered by extra engines to dodge the coast guard.
On the western side of the lake, the migrants are taken to the mountainous regions of Tatvan district in Bitlis by boat after midnight or early in the morning. There, again, they wait.
For the survivors who have made it this far, the next stop is Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeastern Turkey and the honorary capital of the Kurds. There, migrants and refugees wait for days for someone to take them in a bus, living off the charity and goodwill of the locals.
Most of them will have to make it on their own beyond this point — once they realize they have been abandoned by smugglers who have stopped picking up their phones. EFE