Turkish authorities have kicked off deportations of hundreds of Afghan refugees who had come to the country in their thousands recently with the hope to cross into Europe.
The Dogan news agency said Sunday that a first group of Afghan refugees, some 227 people, had boarded a charter flight provided by an Afghan airline from Erzurum in northeastern Turkey back to Kabul, adding that 661 more refugees would be deported this week on board two more flights on the same route.
The deportations are part of efforts by Turkey to send back thousands of Afghan refugees who have illegally entered Turkey via Iran over the past weeks. Estimates suggest more than 18,000 refugees have arrived over the past weeks. Officials in Erzurum said some 3,000 refugees would be deported from the city alone.
The Turkish media said the deportations were based on an agreement with the Afghan government. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who was in Kabul Sunday for talks with officials, thanked Afghan authorities for their cooperation over the issue of refugees.
However, Afghan officials rejected the notion the Afghans being deported, saying they were returning to Afghanistan at their own will.
Islamuddin Jurat, spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry of refugees and repatriations, said the refugees had sought to cross from Turkey to European countries and when they failed, they decided to return to Afghanistan.
“A number of Afghan refugees are coming back to the country of their own will,” said Jurat, adding, “They are the ones who wanted to use Turkey as a transit route to other countries, but when they failed they decided to come back.”
Afghans about to be deported from Erzurum said they would come back soon.
“Of course (I will try to come back) … Back home, there is unemployment and a lack of security,” said a woman interviewed by Turkish television.
Turkey clinched an agreement with the European Union in 2015 to curb the flow of refugees who were hitting the European shores at the time. The agreement came after more than a million refugees, including Afghans, came to Europe in search of better work and living.