Afghans Fleeing Home Are Filling the Lowliest Jobs in Istanbul

Work dried up in 2014 as the United States began winding down its involvement in Afghanistan and transferring responsibility for security to the Afghan government. The group of friends made their way to Turkey, some legally through the Turkish companies that had hired them in Afghanistan, and some making the two-month trek mostly on foot with smugglers from southern Afghanistan through Pakistan and Iran to Turkey.

Juma Muradi, 44, a painter and plasterer, said he had made the dangerous journey three times after being deported by the Turkish authorities twice. The last trip was the hardest, he said, as stricter border patrols forced the smugglers to take them higher into the mountains. He passed the bodies of two Afghans from an earlier group — they had died on the trail. Of the 200 in his group, most were detained by border guards, he said, and only 40 made it through to Turkey.

“If there was peace in my country, I would never take this risk,” he said.

Yet after six years helping build American military bases around the country, he had ended up jobless, watching the Taliban taking over his rural district of Andkhoi in northwestern Afghanistan, and sought work abroad. He now shares a three-room house with seven others in a rundown neighborhood that is scheduled for demolition.

Mr. Muradi said he worried for his wife and four children on their own at home, since he had no immediate family there to protect them. The Taliban are a mile from his home and have traded mortar fire with government forces sometimes hitting the village, he said.

Their village no longer has cellphone service, so he can talk to his family only when they climb a nearby mountain to catch a signal, he said.

Turkey provides a safe refuge at least, but for many it is just a staging post where they can earn money for the next leap to Europe. Most said they were barely surviving. The group of Turkmens have an advantage in that they can speak Turkish, which is close to their own language. But all of them said the fear of deportation made working in Turkey untenable in the long term.

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