Nacibullah about obstacles and pathmakers in building up a new life in Istanbul

Nacibullah came to Turkey from Afghanistan as a 16-year-old in 2018 without his family and now lives and works in Turkey without papers or residence status. In this interview extract, he describes how being illegal and working all the time prevents him from building a new life beyond work in the city. Nevertheless, he feels at home in Istanbul and talks about his hopes for the future.

Nacibullah in Istanbul. Privat Picture.

First days were difficult in Istanbul. But now, it has been more than one year. I worked in many places. However, my current workplace made me feel that I have a value and I own many friends. We sit down together and we hang around on our free times. I don’t face difficulty now. Especially I made a lot of friends and chatting with them makes me feel better. Sometimes I miss my family but we have to work for their wellness.


I had to work without break when I first arrived to Istanbul. Even now, under pandemics restrictive measures, we didn’t stop working ever. We still work after taking down the shutters of the shop. Because there are lot to do; lots of work. And I didn’t have enough time to attend language course or something simply because I don’t have time.


I survived by my efforts. I myself went to industrial companies and asked for any vacancy. I myself told employers what I can do and my skills. Nobody helped me or asked me what can I do.


Istanbul became my homeland since I stayed here. But I have still some problems: I don’t have residence permit and it creates lots of problems. About marriage plans, I need to seek the approval of my family when I decide to marry. If I can have residence permit in Istanbul, then I can settle down and work in Istanbul. However, as long as I remain undocumented and legal problems multiply and I can’t move to other places, then I can seek to have passport and see if I can get visa from another country. In condition that I legalize my stay here or there, I can decide to stay or go.

Nacibullah left Afghanistan as a 16-year-old in 2018 without his family due to existential economic hardship and the war. After living in Konya for a short time, he decided to live in Istanbul because of the numerous job opportunities. In the meantime, Nacibullah, like many other Afghan and other migrants in Turkey, works in an irregular job with physically hard work, low pay and discrimination against non-Turkish employees, in his case in the car industry. The fact that he came to Turkey irregularly and lives there without papers and residence status leads not only to a precarious employment situation, but also to difficulties in finding housing, no protection against discrimination and restrictions on Nacibullah’s freedom of movement. Like Nacibullah, many other forced migrants from Afghanistan lead a precarious, shadowy existence in Istanbul. They often remain out of sight of civil society and organisational support structures, partly because of the fear of deportation or other legal problems due to their irregular stay. 11About the situation of Afghans in Istanbul, see e. g. GAR, 2021: Ghosts of Istanbul. Afghans at the Margins of Society. (22.07.2021).

For many forced migrants in Turkey, it is difficult to register and thus, for example, to get a work permit despite the theoretically existing legal framework. Esin B., a lawyer, spoke about this in an interview with the We Refugees Archive.

Even though he has found friends and a relatively stable job in the meantime, Nacibullah hopes to obtain legal residence status. Because this would be the precondition for being able to build a life for himself in Turkey, even beyond work.



  • 1About the situation of Afghans in Istanbul, see e. g. GAR, 2021: Ghosts of Istanbul. Afghans at the Margins of Society. (22.07.2021).

This interview was conducted by Elif Yenigun for the We Refugees Archive in April 2021. It took place online, in Farsi and Turkish.

Translation into English: Elif Yenigun

Translation from English to German © Minor