Afghan Refugee Crisis for Iran and Turkey: Causes and probabilities

Dr. S. Mohammad Isanedjad
07 September 2021 | 00:00 Code : 2005796 Latest Headlines General category
Afghan Refugee Crisis for Iran and Turkey: Causes and probabilities

What we know

Now, the Taliban have de facto ruled Afghanistan. And de jure, the world powers and Afghanistan's neighbors are ready to recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Under such circumstances, it is clear that the Afghan refugee crisis will affect both Iran and Turkey, as these two countries are on the path of Afghan migration to Europe.

The starting point of a new round of crisis in Afghanistan

The withdrawal of US and allied forces from Afghanistan led to a power vacuum in this country. This becomes even more complicated when we recall that neither the Trump administration nor Biden could reach any effective agreement with the Taliban. It seems that the world will see fundamental changes as the United States shifts its focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And the Middle East will suffer more than any other region from the negative effects of this great geopolitical turn. Of course, this US grand strategy is just one piece of a large-scale global puzzle. To complete this puzzle, we must move on to the next piece: Oil is losing its value to the countries of the Global North. Accordingly, the MENA will face a wave of US military exit; as a result of this action, an endless and contagious chain of power struggles in this region and its environs will be expected. In practice, the United States wants to leave these areas alone, and it seems that there is no problem for Washington with the presence of European powers and Russia there.

The rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan seems to be analyzed in such a framework. So the United States is trying to leave the areas that were once important to it and focus its efforts on new and, of course, important areas. The experience of Great Britain and the USSR invasion of Afghanistan have shown that the entry of foreign forces into this resilient country turns into an erosive and fruitless war, and their withdrawal will lead to a crisis leak to the surrounding countries. Unfortunately, Iran has been facing acute social, economic, and security problems from the presence of illegal Afghan immigrants for many years. This is also true in the case of Turkey; because both two countries are on the path of Afghan refugees moving to Europe. The hospitable nature of Iranian and Turkish people, besides cultural and religious ties between them and Afghanis, provide the grounds for the presence and even permanent residence of Afghan refugees there.

In any case, it is obvious that like any other phenomenon in the world, this crisis also will be a set of opportunities and challenges. How well each actor can seize opportunities or be challenged depends on their capabilities and readiness.

Afghanistan Crisis: Opportunities and Challenges for Iran

Many analysts have always viewed the Helmand River and its water rights as a criterion for the interaction of Tehran and Kabul. It should be noted that Iran and Afghanistan have always had strong disputes over how to divide the water rights of this river. The inauguration of the Kamal Khan Dam on March 24, 2021 (After 43 years), and former President Ashraf Ghani's claim to swap Helmand water with Iran's oil astonished the Iranian public opinion. These actions did not comply well with the principle of good neighborliness. And their coincidence with the unprecedented drought and the terrible effects of climate change in this arid country provoked public opinion. It should not be forgotten that in Iranian culture and geography, water is more than a liquid matter and is very sacred. Some Iranian International law experts claimed that according to the Treaty of Saadabad (1937) and as a result of the arbitration of Turkey (by Fahrettin Altay), Iran and Afghanistan have equal water rights from Helmand. Also, given the interest of the people of Herart and the Hazara Shiites in Iran, expressions of sympathy of the Iranian people were heard on social media. These events Coinciding with the anniversary of the massacre of eight Iranian diplomats and one journalist by the Taliban (August 8, 1998), have led to popular discontent against the Taliban in Iran. This sense of empathy is due to the outburst of emotions and temporary. And due to occupation of simple jobs by Afghan refugees will again lead to public outrage.

Contrary to popular belief, the Iranian government is reluctant to confront the Taliban. The Iranian government knows that the return of the Taliban to power is due to the coordination of internal, regional, and global forces in Afghanistan. The resistance of the Panjshir Valley is incapable of defeating the Taliban. And any attempt to suppress the Taliban could worsen the situation in Afghanistan and lead to an influx of refugees. So when other countries are ready to recognize and interact with the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. Why does not Iran do this? Unlike the period of the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), Iran is not ready to accept the presence of Afghan refugees and is looking for a way to keep Afghans in their own country.

Afghanistan Crisis: Opportunities and Challenges for Turkey

As the US and its allies withdrew from Afghanistan, talks began between Ankara and Washington D.C. on the protection of Kabul Airport (as the only link between this landlocked country and the outside world). As expected, the Taliban openly opposed this idea. The issue has sparked controversy between parties for and against it. In Turkey, some critics have argued that by accepting this responsibility, Ankara is plunging itself into a fruitless and unnecessary conflict. But some other believes that Turkey's presence in Kabul is a necessity, not a choice. Turkey, as a regional power, must defend its interests wherever necessary.

It should be noted that due to the devaluation of the Iranian Rial (the first weak national currency in 2020 and the second one in 2021) and the recession in the Iranian labor market, millions of Afghan refugees fleeing the war as well as Tens of thousands of Afghans living in Iran may want to cross the border to settle in Turkey or cross into Europe. Despite some signs of progress in the construction of the border wall between Turkey and Iran, this wall has not yet been completed in the southern half, and the geomorphologic and climatic conditions of the region provide grounds for illegal crossing of these mountainous and foggy borders.


The arrival of refugees and immigrants in any country has many different and sometimes unexpected implications, such as: demographic (quantitative characteristics such as number, growth rate, age-sex pyramid) and qualitative characteristics (level of education, level of health, demographic balance), social (level of socialization and social empathy), economic (human development index, Gini coefficient, employment, and Inflation) and even electoral (change in the pattern of elections).

Neither Iran nor Turkey seems capable of resolving the Afghan crisis. But both countries must try to manage the scope of this crisis. Iran and Turkey can interact with EU countries, Russia, China, India, and Central Asian countries to achieve this goal.

Immigrants do not migrate alone. They are the bearers of their culture, habits, goods, and needs. They are also facilitators of the presence of relatives in the host country. Unfortunately, Afghan immigrants sometimes can be the promoters of drugs. The production, trade, and consumption of narcotics can be a big problem for any country. But this could create more acute difficulties for countries such as Turkey and Iran, developing countries with transit functions and with a significant young population.

Despite the more association of Afghan asylum seekers with Iranian society, for economic and immigration reasons, they are more inclined to choose Turkey. Afghans like many other refugees believe that Turkey is the EU's gate. This is while Europe's leaders saying they would not welcome more Afghan refugees.

Accordingly, it may be better for Turkey and Iran to try to keep Afghani refugees in their country before their act to leave. This can be achieved by investing in Afghanistan and trying to reach an agreement with Kabul.

Undoubtedly, it will be feasible to implement these measures by interacting with other countries involved in this issue.

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