“Tension is mounting against Afghan refugees”

“The social bomb, fueled by the economic crisis, in a country which already hosts 5 million migrants, risks exploding with the new wave of refugees”, believe Gabriella and Roberto Ugolini. For decades they have worked on the border with Iran, where the government is building a wall against those fleeing the Taliban.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – “The climate in Turkey regarding the new wave of refugees arriving from Afghanistan is very tense and xenophobia is on the rise”, worry Roberto and Gabriella Ugolini, fidei donum missionaries from the diocese of Florence who work in the Crescent countries since the year 2000. They are currently witnessing a new migratory emergency, in a society severely tested by the economic crisis that the covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated.

“In recent years, Turkey has proven to be a country with a large reception capacity, but internal problems have exasperated the population, who do not want to hear about opening the doors to more refugees.” According to official UN data, there are currently 3.6 million Syrians in the country, while the total number of refugees and asylum seekers, according to immigration authorities, reaches 5 million. Partly because “many choose not to register, hoping to continue their journey to Europe”, explain the Ugolini spouses. There are hundreds of thousands of Afghans: 116,000 according to the government agency AFAD and the minus half a million for non-governmental organizations. .

In recent weeks, around 1,500 Afghans a day – ‘including fleeing military personnel’ – are reported to have crossed the Turkish border from Iran, the country through which the route passes to reach the West, and this number is expected to continue to increase . But the rejection rate has increased dramatically.

“Precisely along the border with Iran, the Turkish government has built a wall that should stretch for about 500 km, to try to stop the advance of these desperate people.” They are people that Gabriella and Roberto Ugolini know well, because their mission has always been to help migrants in the east of the country: first in Ürfa, on the border with Syria, then for fifteen years in Van – le heart of the Kurdish region one step away from Iran – a land of herders, smugglers and many Afghans and Iranians fleeing violence and oppression.

“These are people fleeing for political reasons, to escape religious persecution or in search of a decent life for themselves and their children. But there are also women fleeing family and social boundaries, and other people, such as homosexuals, that they suffer from serious forms of intolerance in their societies of origin. They all see Turkey as a stage to join Europe or other Western countries, but in reality after that, they have to wait up to ten years to obtain a possible refugee status.

In the meantime, “this country tries to welcome them with dignity. Those who register have access to services, such as schools for children, but can only work illegally. And those who decide to remain in hiding are left behind. at the mercy of human traffickers”. .

Now, the unemployment-fueled “social bomb” – which has recently produced riots and violence against a Syrian-inhabited neighborhood of Ankara – is in danger of exploding with arrivals from Afghanistan. In the first weeks of the emergency, President Erdogan had declared that “Turkey is not obliged to be the repository of migrants heading for Europe”. Erdogan is also coming under pressure from opposition parties, who continue to attack him over the EU deal and point to the risk posed by the wave of refugees fleeing the Taliban government. On the other hand, the president declared that he wanted to grant a line of credit to this regime: one more reason not to accept asylum applications.

Those who were already waiting for recognition of refugee status now feel desperate, as they fear that their file will be frozen,” said the Ugolini couple, currently based in Istanbul. In addition to helping migrants in the metropolis, they continue to run the Turkish and English school they founded in Van for Iranian and Afghan women.

“The Church – they affirm – has always been at the forefront of hospitality, despite the fact that the means at its disposal are limited. Caritas works well, both in the Istanbul Vicariate and in Anatolia, and there are many aid initiatives in collaboration with other Christian Churches, from Greek Orthodox to Protestant communities”.

But the needs are enormous and the country no longer knows how to meet them. “The danger that intolerance continues to grow is real – admits the Italian couple – and it will not be easy to contain it”.

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