01/25/2023, 19.25
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Afghan migrants held for ransom on Turkish-Iranian border

Increasingly, criminal gangs are abducting migrants for ransom with impunity. Victims’ relatives are asked to pay as little as US$ 500. Iran’s crackdown against protests sparked by the Mahsa Amini affair is overshadowing the migrants issue. Meanwhile, Turkey continues its policy of repatriating refugees.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Since the Taliban came back to power, tens of thousands of desperate people have fled Afghanistan, making their way into and across Iran and Turkey. Here Afghan refugees have faced abuses and violence as well as kidnappings for ransom.

One of them is Sami, not his real name. Like many others, he fled Kabul when the Taliban came back, reaching Turkey, where he was deported. His story highlights a growing problem, that of migrants held for ransom along the border between Turkey and Iran.

“Afghans aren’t familiar with the area, so they find themselves in tiny villages where they become easy prey for armed men,” Sami explained.

Such men have formed gangs who can consist of just a few people and demand as little as US$ 500. They take advantage of exhausted refugees who walked for weeks through rough, mountainous terrain in Iran before entering unfamiliar areas in Turkey.

“They find Afghans at their weakest points, when they are tired, hungry, and lost,” Sami noted. “Even if it’s ten Afghans against only two or three of the criminals, the Afghans are too tired and weak to try and fight back.”

While Turkey continues to send refugees back, hundreds in January alone, with some 5,000 set to leave coming days, videos of Afghans held for ransom have begun to appear.

In one video, a group of young Afghan men cower by a rock face, hands tied behind their backs. One of them, gagged, is threatened with a large combat knife, which then slices down his ear. In another, topless Afghan men, chained together, kneeling on sand, cry and plead as they are whipped with a belt.

Ali Hekmat, who has been aiding Afghan refugees in Turkey for more than a decade, told Middle East Eye that he has heard countless stories of criminal gangs abusing Afghans, particularly near the Iranian border.

Most Afghans try to enter Turkey without documentation, so there are no accurate statistics, but a constant flow of messages from Afghans held for ransom makes its way to families after they were captured by kidnappers.

More than a year and a half after the Taliban came back to Kabul, Afghan refugees are still a source of deep concern since so many travel a risky route through Iran and Turkey in an attempt to reach Europe, the United States or Australia.

NGOs report scores of cases involving arrests, abuses and deaths, picked up by media, like the migrant who froze to death in an attempt to cross the Turkish border in early 2022. For Europe, this emergency is a “humanitarian bomb”.

A source told AsiaNews that "many people” have died along the border in a "desperate attempt" to start a new life away from the Taliban after their introduced a sleuth of restrictions inspired by Islamic law (Shar‘ia).

The problem has been compounded even more by Iran’s brutal repression of protests that broke out after 22-year-old Kurdish Mahsa Amini died four months ago in custody of the morality because she was not wearing the mandatory headscarf correctly.

The violent crackdown by Iran’s clerical regime has overshadowed the endless tragedy of migrants, often forgotten by international institutions and governments.

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