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Turkey slams US statement on planned resettlement of Afghans

An Afghan soldier plays guitar after it was left by U.S troops in Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The Turkish government has criticised a US plan to use third countries such as Turkey to resettle thousands of Afghans who risk being targeted by Taliban fighters over their Washington links, saying the move would cause a “great migration crisis” in the region.

Weeks before the US is set to complete the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, its Department of State on Monday announced a new programme under which certain categories of Afghans will have a chance to resettle as refugees in the US. The scheme covers interpreters and translators who worked with US forces, Afghans involved with US-funded projects and those employed by US-based NGOs or media organisations.

Afghans in the programme would have to make their own way to a third country, where they will wait 12 to 14 months for their application to be processed.

A senior Department of State official said Washington had been in discussion with neighbouring countries on potential outflows, adding it was important that Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan remain open, while others might travel to Turkey via Iran.

But the Turkish foreign ministry on Tuesday rejected the reference to Turkey as a migration route for Afghans, adding that the country, already hosting more than four million refugees, would not “undertake a new migration crisis on behalf of a third country”.

“As Turkey, we do not accept the irresponsible decision taken by the United States without consulting our country. If the United States wants to take these people to its country, it is possible to transfer them directly to their country by planes,” the ministry said in a statement.

“No one should expect the Turkish nation to bear the burden of the migration crises experienced as a result of the decisions of third countries in our region,” it added.

Hundreds of Afghans have crossed into Turkey in recent weeks amid rising violence in Afghanistan, raising concerns of a fresh influx of refugees.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained in recent years over a host of issues, including the former’s move to purchase Russian defence equipment and policy differences in the Middle East.

Ankara has offered to guard and operate Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital Kabul after the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, in a move that could create an area for cooperation between the NATO allies.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkish officials were holding high-level talks over the issue with Afghan counterparts.

The issue is also likely to feature in talks between Ankara and Brussels about updating a 2016 deal under which Turkey received aid for hosting people seeking refuge in the European Union.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been reinforcing border security in anticipation of a potential increase in irregular migrant inflow, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Twitter on Wednesday.

His statement came in response to Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who recently claimed that the government is unable to control the migrant flow to Turkey, particularly from the Turkish-Iranian border.

Soylu outlined measures taken by the government, including building a 152km (94.5-mile) long wall on the border with work under way for another 85km (53 miles).

He said Turkey’s 740km (460-mile) eastern border will be monitored by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from the sky, electro-optic towers and thermal night cameras on the ground.

He explained that an additional 500 village guards and 82 armoured vehicles were deployed to the border to boost security, adding that Turkey had prevented the undocumented entrance of more than 505,000 people in 2020, and some 253,000 so far this year.

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