Bodies of young Afghans who died seeking asylum brought home

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The bodies of five Afghans who died when their boat crowded with migrants capsized in stormy weather in a lake in eastern Turkey last month were returned home to Afghanistan on Wednesday.

The five were among 29 Afghans whose bodies have been recovered after their boat sank in Lake Van, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Gran Hewad. The lake, largest in eastern Turkey, lies close to the border with Iran.

The other migrants were mostly from Pakistan and Iran, according to the Turkish authorities.

Hashmatullah Noor was at the Kabul airport shortly before dawn to collect the bodies of his 19-year-old niece and nephew. He lost 10 relatives, all of them under 22 years old, in the tragedy. He bemoaned the sorry state of Afghanistan, ravaged by war that has driven so many young people to flee.

“There are no jobs, only war. Our young people have no choice but to leave,” Noor said. “They go in hopes of getting somewhere to find a job and sometimes they die trying.”

The boat was reported missing in stormy weather on June 27. Turkish authorities estimated it was carrying between 55 and 60 migrants when it went down.

Turkish authorities believe smugglers transport migrants across Lake Van to avoid several police and military checkpoints on the traditional transit routes used to traffic migrants crossing into Turkey from Iran. Turkey, which hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, is a main crossing point for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Turkish authorities have detained five people in connection with the tragedy and have removed a local administrator from office.

Afghan Ministry of Repatriation and Refugees’ media advisor Abdul Basit Ansari said that 35,000 Afghans applied for asylum in the European Union last year. He could not say how many had fled to Turkey.

Mawladad, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was at Kabul airport to take the body of his 15-year old son. He said the last time he saw him was on May 27 when they said goodbye.

“I sent him, I had no other choice but to send him because all we have here is war and unemployment,” Mawladad said. He planned to bury the teen in his home district of Jalrez in Afghanistan’s central Wardak province.

In December of last year, a boat carrying migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan sank in Lake Van. Seven people died and 64 were rescued in that incident.

According to the European border guard agency Frontex, almost 9,300 migrants tried to illegally enter Europe in the first six months of 2020, which is 73% more than in the same period in 2019. Of those, 17% were Afghans.


Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.