Afghan refugees in Turkey have been protesting outside the UN refugee agency in Ankara for 26 days — denouncing discriminations against them and accusing the agency of taking too long to process their asylum requests, leaving them stuck in Turkey in "unbelievably difficult" conditions.
Dozens of Afghans have been sitting outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters day and night in a makeshift camp that is home also to about 40 children, according to local reports. As their cries for a fairer screening process and better conditions in Turkey went unheard, about 12 of them went on a hunger strike and sew their lips in protest.
'Why don’t you do anything for us?'
"Afghan refugees and asylum seekers have come to the streets of Ankara to convey their demands which are based on the fundamental rights of asylum seekers to the UNHCR’s deaf ears," the group said in a statement. "The refugees' rights are violated by UNHCR incompetence and Afghan refugees are deprived of their fundamental rights."
The group detailed the hardships many Afghans seeking refuge go through.
"Sometimes a ship full of Afghan asylum seekers are eaten by sea, sometimes they are strangled inside the closed containers, sometimes they are caught in the trap of human trafficking along their route, and sometimes they commit suicide in the immigration camps," they wrote, addressing UNHCR.
'We left Afghanistan because of war and had no choice.'
"But we, Afghan asylum seekers in Turkey, have chosen the right path. We have recoursed to UNHCR the savior and provider of human rights. We have not tried the dangerous trip through the mountains, seas and oceans," the group wrote. "So, why don’t you do anything for us? Does this not indicate that you somehow indirectly support the network of human trafficking with your discriminatory and slow performance?"
A representative for UNHCR in Ankara could not be reached on Friday. The videos below show protesters sitting outside the agency's office there.
The group estimates that about 26,000 Afghans are awaiting asylum hearings in Turkey. Protesters complained that their applications take an average of seven to eight years to review, while those of refugees from other countries are usually processed within two to three years.
While they wait, they cannot find legal work in Turkey and cannot apply for asylum elsewhere — leaving them stuck in limbo.
Some of the protesters were already denied asylum, but said they were too scared to go back to Afghanistan.
"We want to show the government that it would not be easy for us to go back to Afghanistan," Abdul Hamid, a spokesman for the protesters, told a local reporter. "They are scared of returning there."
"We left Afghanistan because of war and had no choice. I just packed, took my children and left. I did not even get the chance to say bye to my mum and brothers," Zarina, one of the protesters, said. "To tell you the truth I did not feel anything, because my daughter was injured and I was just thinking of getting my kids out of there."
Afghans are the largest refugee population in the world — with more than 2.6 million displaced by years of conflict, according UN figures, — though refugees of the Syrian war are on their way to surpass them. The Turkish government estimates that about 1.5 million Afghans will be living in the country by the end of the year. Turkey is also hosting more than 736,000 Syrians.
On April 26, Turkish police cleared the protesters' camp, leading to some clashes.
But shortly after, they were back.
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