Haunted by a 2015 migration crisis fueled by the war in Syria, EU leaders are desperate to avoid a new massive influx of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan.

With the exception of those who aided Western forces in the country’s two-decade-long war, the message to Afghans considering fleeing to Europe is this: if you have to leave, go to neighboring countries, but don’t don’t come here.

“It must be our aim to keep the majority of the population in the region,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said last week, echoing what many European leaders are saying.

European Union officials told a meeting of interior ministers last week that the most important lesson of 2015 was not to leave the Afghans to their own devices, and without urgent humanitarian aid, they will begin to move, according to a confidential German diplomatic note obtained by the Associated Press.

Austria, among EU extremists on migration, suggested creating “deportation centers” in countries neighboring Afghanistan so that EU countries can deport Afghans who have left. refused asylum – even if they cannot be returned to their country of origin.

Desperate scenes of people hanging from planes taking off from Kabul airport have only heightened Europe’s concern over a potential refugee crisis. The United States and its NATO allies are scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who fear punishment from the Taliban for working with Western forces. But other Afghans are unlikely to receive the same reception.

Even Germany, which since 2015 has admitted more Syrians than any other Western country, is now sending a different signal.

“Partnerships with third countries”

Several German politicians, including Armin Laschet, candidate from the center-right Union bloc to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, have warned that there should be no repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that “Europe alone cannot assume the consequences” of the situation in Afghanistan and “must anticipate and protect itself against significant irregular migratory flows”.

Britain, which left the EU in 2020, has said it will welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and resettle 20,000 Afghans in the years to come.

On top of that, there have been few concrete offers from European countries, who, besides evacuating their own citizens and Afghan personnel, say they are focusing on helping Afghans to escape. inside their country and in neighboring countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

Europe “should not wait for people to stand at our external border,” said EU Home Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

EU Council President Charles Michel acknowledged the challenges Europe faces when he visits Madrid on Saturday to visit Spain’s emergency center for Afghan refugees.

“Partnerships with third countries will be at the heart of our discussions within the European Union. We need to adopt strategies that ensure that migration is possible in an orderly and consistent manner, ”he said.

“We have to find this balance between the dignity of the European Union and the ability to defend the interests of the European Union. “

“Gateway for irregular flows”

Greece, whose picturesque islands off the Turkish coast were the European entry point for hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others six years ago, has made it clear that it does not did not want to relive this crisis.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said Greece would not agree to be the “gateway for irregular flows to the EU” and consider Turkey a safe place for Afghans.

Such a speech makes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan see red. His country is already hosting 3.6 million Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Afghans, and he has used the threat of sending them to Europe as political leverage.

“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s repository for refugees,” Erdogan warned in a speech Thursday.

The Turkish president spoke about migration from Afghanistan on Friday in a rare phone call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and also discussed the matter with Iran.

U.S. Marines assist with security at an evacuation checkpoint at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul [Victor Mancilla//US Central Command Public Affairs via AFP]

Potential “mass movement”

Attitudes towards migrants hardened in Europe after the 2015 crisis, fueling the rise of far-right parties such as the Alternative for Germany, the largest opposition party in parliament ahead of Germany’s parliamentary elections in next month.

Even in Turkey, migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, once treated as Muslim Brotherhood, are increasingly viewed with suspicion as the country grapples with rising inflation and unemployment.

Acknowledging the public ‘unease’ over migration, Erdogan noted how his government had strengthened the eastern border with Iran with military, gendarmes, police and a new wall, under construction since 2017.

PA journalists near Turkey’s border with Iran met dozens of Afghans this week, mostly young men, but also women and children. Smuggled across the border at night in small groups, they said they left their country to escape the Taliban, violence and poverty.

“The situation in Afghanistan was intense,” said a young man, Hassan Khan. “The Taliban have captured all of Afghanistan. But there is no work in Afghanistan, we had to come here.

Observers say there is no indication of mass movement across the border yet. Turkish authorities say they have intercepted 35,000 Afghans entering the country illegally so far this year, up from more than 50,000 in 2020 and around 200,000 in 2019.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 90 percent of the 2.6 million Afghan refugees outside the country live in neighboring Iran and Pakistan. The two countries also host large numbers of Afghans who have left in search of better economic opportunities.

By comparison, around 630,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in EU countries over the past 10 years, with the highest numbers in Germany, Hungary, Greece and Sweden, according to the agency. EU statistics.

Jan Egeland, general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said it was not a given that the Taliban takeover would lead to another refugee crisis.

“I would caution against a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. The Afghans are “scared, confused, but they also hope that a long, long war will be over and that they may now be able to avoid the crossfire.”

He said much depended on continued development and humanitarian work by the Taliban.

“If you had a utility collapse and there was a major food crisis, there would, for sure, be a mass movement of people,” Egeland said.


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