Afghans’ plight reignites migration fears in Europe

EU foreign affairs ministers will hold an emergency virtual meeting on Tuesday (17 August), as fears mount in Europe over a new influx of refugees from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover there.

Ministers are expected to discuss the security situation and migration.

Several EU member states are worried that the Taliban takeover would trigger a replay of the 2015-16 migration crisis when the bloc saw the arrival of over 1 million asylum seekers in a matter of months.

While EU leaders are under pressure to take in Afghans who had been desperately trying to get out of the country, they are also reluctant to be seen as offering incentives to leave Afghanistan.

French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening said that the EU would set up an initiative to thwart the large migrant flows now expected from the country, cracking down on illegal people smuggling rings that risk emerging, AFP reported.

France, Germany, and other EU countries would put together a response that was “robust, coordinated and united” to prevent irregular migration by harmonising criteria and showing European solidarity, he said in a televised statement.

Macron called on the UN Security Council to come up with a “reasonable and unified” response and said he had spoken to UK prime minister Boris Johnson, adding that “joint initiatives” would be agreed in the next hours.

“We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds,” Macron said, adding that France will continue to help activists, artists, journalists who risk being targeted because of their work.

In Germany, German chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Monday night that Afghanistan is “an extremely bitter development.

“Bitter, dramatic, terrible – especially of course for the people in Afghanistan,” Merkel said in Berlin, adding that a special EU summit might be needed to discuss the situation.

“We all made the wrong assessment,” she said.

Meanwhile, her possible successor, German Christian Democrat leader Armin Laschet said the situation should not lead to the repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.

“We should not send the signal that Germany can take in everyone in need,” he said, adding that “the focus must be on humanitarian aid on site, unlike in 2015,” he said.

The competing Greens’ candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock, said Germany must take in at least 10,000 local staff who have worked for the German military or other Nato countries.

But Austria, for its part, still insists on deporting failed asylum seekers.

On Monday, Vienna suggested setting up “deportation centres” in nearby countries as an alternative.

“If deportations are no longer possible because of the restrictions imposed on us by the European Convention on Human Rights, alternatives must be considered,” Austrian interior minister Karl Nehammer said in a joint statement with foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg.

Austria was one of six EU countries that warned the EU Commission last week against halting the deportation of failed Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe. Since then, four of the six – Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands – have reversed course.

Caroline Van Buren, a UN refugee agency representative in Afghanistan recently said that between 20,000 and 30,000 Afghans were leaving the country on a weekly basis.

However, only a few thousand irregular border crossings by Afghans nationals were reported at the EU external borders.

Meanwhile, at the end of July, Turkey had already started to build a wall an effort to stop an influx of people from Afghanistan from crossing into the country through Iran.

The massive concrete structure, in the eastern province of Van, stretches 64km long, Reuters reported at the time.

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