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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Citizen / Mission to Anatolia: “Nobody”, “Nobody Child” and “Afghan”

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From where I stand, at the beginning of a passable plot with a rough fence, right where the city ends in the north, the visitor can reach Iran in just one hour. If he has provided and secured a visa, he can spend another three hours from there, take walks in the famous bazaar of Tabriz, which we also call Taurida, gazing at its famous carpets or discovering museums, mosques and archeological sites. The occupants of this plot all crossed from Tabriz to enter the easternmost border of Turkey, in the city of Van. But none of them had time to see what was there. Some were their priorities, others their practical possibilities in relation to us, as of course fate wrote for them. Or those who wrote their fate for them.

One is stuck in front of the cemetery: On the crooked and roughly placed concrete slabs one can see Turkish inscriptions even more sloppy with white paint. They say: “Afghan”, “Nobody” or “Child Nobody”. Didn't the undertaker know “The Unknown” or was he not interested in more elegant formulations? Probably no one will ever know. The visitors of the place, as the little refugee girl from Syria, who suddenly appeared, explained to me, are always strangers, like me. They do more or less the same route as me, they just usually, he says, have big cameras. The little girl, although she does not know how to read well, being a first grader in elementary school, as she was justified to me, speaks Turkish perhaps better than the Kurdish, probably an undertaker – in Van 80% of the inhabitants are Kurds, after all – and is willing to relieve me of the hassle of searching for a tombstone. If I tell her, she says, what exactly I'm looking for, she knows it all.

(“Nobody” writes the depicted tomb)

He built a wall

A six-year-old boy, who certainly does not remember his homeland, spends his time guiding foreign journalists – somewhere he discreetly asks if there is a box of cookies – in the roughly dug graves of the “unsolicited” of the next wave of refugees. In the graves of Afghans, who died of hardship or were killed trying to cross the border with Turkey, crossing for days across Iran. Now the borders are -almost- sealed, Turkey is building a wall to stop the flow, and Iran is closing its own borders, saying that the 800,000 Afghan refugees living there are enough.

Here, in Turkey, their number is estimated at 400,000 – 500,000. The “almost sealed” above has nothing to do with the completion of the wall, but with the ability of traffickers to transport through “holes” in the crossings of this great mountain border those desperate who can pay to reach Turkey. Hoping, that from there they will pass to Europe, or for those who know the truth, that they are not going to pass anyway, to be able to somehow survive here.

Most are teenagers and young men who have fled the country in recent months after the Taliban invaded, trying, as one of them would later explain to me, to escape recruitment or death for those who refuse. But sometimes, families come, young couples with their children. Some leave for the larger cities – from Van of 400,000 -, some stay here and in most cases are arrested. If in the meantime they do not manage to apply for asylum, and most do not even know what it is, they are deported briefly back to Iran, where their treatment is not the best. The United Nations estimates that more than three million Afghans have been displaced abroad, most of them in Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. Another four are displaced within the country. But, especially in Turkey, the efforts of desperate Afghans have attracted more publicity due to the tragic events that have cost the lives of many of them, who are determined to flee Iran because of their miserable living conditions there, but also treatment by the authorities.

Afghans are not just dying here. More die elsewhere. In one incident, for example, Iranian border guards forced a group of young refugees to cross a river to return to Afghanistan at gunpoint. Forty-five of them drowned. Only the journalists could not go there to find the corresponding cemeteries. Nor, of course, six years old so familiar with death as to guide them over the graves of their peers where sometimes one sees a children's shoe running out of burial, like the little one who guided me, asking me, however, at some point I went to press one by mistake, to be careful. Where life loses so much value, the distance between the dead and the living inevitably shrinks.


To POLITIS on Monday: Where did the Afghan refugees go? And how the Refugee threatens to dethrone Erdogan

Source: politis.com.cy

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