Andrey Areshev, political scientist
Against the background of the ongoing hostilities in Afghanistan, on August 2, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken presented a plan to relocate many thousands of residents of the country who risk becoming targets of persecution by the Taliban militants (banned in the Russian Federation) for the assistance they provided to the Americans and their allies during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The plan, called the Priority 2 program, applies to Afghans who are not eligible for a special SIV immigration visa (more than 70 thousand visas have been issued since 2008), who worked for US-funded projects, non-governmental organizations and the media (including translators) and their families.
Earlier, on the night of July 29, the first group of two hundred Afghans arrived on a special flight from Kabul to Dallas. However, now the relocation procedure looks much more complicated. Before the pre-agreed candidates will have the opportunity to move overseas, they will have to wait for immigration cases to be considered for 12-14 months after submitting their application, while staying in a third country and the Afghans will get there at their own expense. And even in this very “third country”, for example, in Pakistan or Turkey, you still have to enter, often illegally, and then live there again at your own expense. At the same time, the United States “will not be able to provide protection or support to individuals while they are waiting for a decision on their refugee case.”
As State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “We recognize that… It is extremely difficult for Afghans to get a visa to a third country or in some cases find a way to enter a third country.” And although American officials will continue to review the situation on the ground, and “our planning will develop,” it is obvious that as the withdrawal of troops is completed by September, it will become increasingly difficult to do this. Price’s remark about the importance of openness of the Afghan-Pakistani, and taking into account the “Turkish” route, also the Afghan – Iranian and Iranian-Turkish borders is also interesting.
Taking into account the existing challenges and risks (from smuggling to drug trafficking), it is quite natural that both Tehran and Ankara act accordingly, seeking to strengthen the border borders and to regulate their crossing as much as possible. The Turkish authorities are afraid of a new migration crisis that could create additional problems in the country, where more than four million displaced people have already found refuge. Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic condemned the “irresponsible” statement of the State Department, issued without prior consultations with Turkey and capable of provoking “a serious refugee crisis in our region and increasing the suffering of Afghans on migration routes.” And the director of public relations of Ak-Sarai, Fahrettin Altun, in an interview with Bloomberg, directly stated that Turkey “is not, and will not serve as a waiting room for any country.”
According to the head of the opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the West understands that it can turn Turkey into a “prison for refugees” and make the uncontrolled influx of migrants a real problem for the country’s survival. Moreover, the leader of the” Kemalists “claims that during a recent meeting with Biden, President Erdogan allegedly informally agreed to accept Afghan refugees, and then” behaved in such a way as to hide his decision.” If he wins the presidential election in 2023, Kilicdaroglu promises to cancel the agreements reached with the United States on the “migration issue”.
The critical arrows directed by the opposition are the subject of special concern for the authorities, who are faced with numerous economic problems, aggravated by forest fires, the coronavirus pandemic, the financial crisis and growing unemployment. The multi-million “army” of “servants of Allah” from Syria is already the subject of growing public discontent and its replenishment by tens of thousands of Afghans is unlikely to please the local authorities.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, more than 30 thousand citizens of Afghanistan have entered Turkey this year. Responding to Kilicdaroglu, the head of the department, Suleiman Soylu, spoke about measures to strengthen border security, including the ongoing construction of a 152-kilometer-long wall on the border with Iran. The eastern border of the country with a length of 740 kilometers will be “monitored” by unmanned aerial vehicles from the air, as well as electro-optical stations and thermal night cameras from the ground. In order to strengthen security, an additional 500 village guards and 82 armored personnel carriers have been deployed in the border areas. As a result of these measures, according to the minister, in 2020 it was possible to prevent the illegal entry of more than 505 thousand people. This year, this number has already exceeded a quarter of a million people.
According to some expert estimates, from 10 to 20 thousand Afghans may apply for participation in the Priority 2 program. So far, the number of Afghan refugees arriving in Turkey every day is relatively small – from 500 to 2000 people, but it is possible that in the event of an aggravation of the situation in Afghanistan, it may significantly increase.
During several decades of the Afghan conflict, the number of registered migrants alone amounted to about 2.5 million people, up to 90 % of who were accepted by neighboring Pakistan and Iran. According to the UN, in addition to about 950 thousand registered refugees, from one and a half to two million undocumented Afghans have found refuge in Iran alone. In 2020, against the background of US sanctions and the complication of the sanitary and epidemiological situation, about 860 thousand of them were sent to their historical homeland, where they faced even greater difficulties. It can be assumed that now many of them will want to take advantage of the American program, which provokes a new hotbed of conflict that can spread to the countries of Central Asia.
During a recent international conference in Tashkent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mentioned the initiative of the Americans to either temporarily or permanently deploy from 10 to 100 thousand immigrants from Afghanistan on the territory of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to the head of Russian diplomacy, the leaders of the states of the region are well aware of the risks lurking in these plans, and therefore they will make the right decision based on their own interests.
Meanwhile, the real situation is quite complicated. So, in early July, it became known about the arrival of more than a thousand people in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. The total number of migrants from Afghanistan in the Central Asian states can go to thousands. “The risk of infiltration of militants into the region, including under the guise of refugees, cannot but cause concern among our Central Asian neighbors,” Russian representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzia said at a recent meeting of the Security Council on Afghanistan.
We will add that the American Priority 2 program, voluntarily or unwittingly, contributes to this very infiltration with unpredictable consequences for domestic political and regional stability. Accordingly, within the framework of the activities of the anti-terrorist structures of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the CSTO, regional migration processes should be given the closest attention.