Leery of Another Conflict-Driven Migration Crisis, EU Looks to Afghanistan’s Neighbors

James Carstensen | August 17, 2021 | 6:11pm EDT
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Migrants from Afghanistan and other countries rescued during a bid to cross the Mediterranean by small boat from North Africa last year. (Photo by Pablo Garcia/AFP via Getty Images)
Migrants from Afghanistan and other countries rescued during a bid to cross the Mediterranean by small boat from North Africa last year. (Photo by Pablo Garcia/AFP via Getty Images)

Berlin (CNSNews.com) – After an emergency foreign ministers meeting following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the bloc must prevent a migration crisis at home and focus on supporting Afghanistan’s neighbors to take in those fleeing Taliban control.

“We have to ensure the new political situation created in Afghanistan by the return of the Taliban does not lead to a large-scale migratory movement toward Europe,” Borrell said. “We need to coordinate between E.U member states and transit countries. We have to support transit and the neighboring countries of Afghanistan.”

The details of what such support will entail must next be decided upon by European Union leaders. A day earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron said France and Germany would push for a coordinated European stance to “protect” Europe.

“We most of all need to help neighboring states, should Afghan refugees come,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a campaign event the same day earmarked Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq as locations for refugee settlement.

Germany should “now immediately ensure that integration prospects exist there, that one can stay there, that one can gain a secure future there,” he said.

In his statement, Borrell said that the bloc’s ministers had agreed on evacuating not just Europeans from Afghanistan but also those Afghan citizens who worked with E.U. countries.

“There are almost 400 people and their families who worked on [E.U.] delegations and missions in Afghanistan,” he said. “We cannot abandon them.”

Borrell said Spain had offered to provide a hub for receiving those Afghan workers and their families, who could later be moved to other member-states that offer them visas.

Several member states had confirmed they will take on Afghans who worked with E.U. forces.

North Macedonia said Monday it would provide temporary shelter to 186 Afghan refugees who worked for international organizations and agencies, before future transfer to other countries.

Kosovo’s prime minister on Tuesday said the country was coordinating with the United States on efforts to shelter a number of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces.

Even before the dramatic events of recent days, European leaders had been concerned about the possibility the situation in Afghanistan could lead to another wave of migration toward Europe, as occurred in 2015-16 when over a million migrants, mostly from Syria and Iraq, entered Europe amid the peak of the Syrian civil war.

That crisis sparked deep division within the bloc, with members in the east, including Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, refusing to share the burden of settling migrants who entered via the “frontline” states of Greece and Italy.

Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi called on Tuesday for a unified approach.

“We cannot have millions of people leaving Afghanistan and coming to the European Union ... and certainly not through Greece,” he told state television ERT. “The solution needs to be common, and it needs to be a European solution.”

“Europe alone cannot bear the consequences of the current situation,” Macron said during his speech on Monday. “We must anticipate and protect ourselves against major irregular migratory flows that would endanger those who use them and feed trafficking of all kinds.”

Responding to Macron’s announcement, French Greens lawmaker Matthieu Orphelin accused him of not differentiating between “irregular migration” and asylum. The League for Human Rights criticized the focus on neighboring countries, describing it as “sub-contracting asylum for Afghans to neighboring countries.”

Merkel admitted on Tuesday that finding a common European position would not be easy.

“It is a weak point in our European Union that we have not yet achieved a common asylum policy,” she said. “We must continue to work on this vigorously.”

Merkel controversially opened the doors to migrants in Germany at the beginning of the 2015 crisis before later reversing it amid political pressure and a resurgent far right, setting a cap of 200,000 admissions in 2017.

The International Organization for Migration said that nearly 360,000 people have fled Afghanistan this year due to violence. It estimates at least 1.5 million will have left their homeland by the end of the year.

According to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, there are currently 2.7 million registered Afghan refugees, of whom 1.4 million are in Pakistan and 780,000 in Iran.

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