EU Has to Quell Pre-Emptive Panic over Afghan Refugees Fleeing TalibanPolitics | August 20, 2021, Friday // 15:47| views
As scenes of chaos and desperation have unfolded in Kabul, the response of EU leaders has varied from impassioned calls on the Taliban to allow refugees to leave to expressions of concerns over women’s rights.
Beyond the hand-wringing, however, one theme stands out.
French President Emmanuel Macron first voiced it, announcing a joint initiative with Germany to “protect ourselves” from the possible arrival of Afghan refugees.
EU foreign ministers, meeting this week, vowed to pre-empt any "large-scale migratory movement" to Europe.
Talking tough on migration seldom marries with reality. If it did, the panic over possible new "waves" and "influxes" of Afghan people to the EU would be short-lived.
To reach Europe, refugees from Afghanistan have to enter and cross countries like Iran and Turkey, which already host millions of refugees and are busy strengthening their borders; manage to avoid brutal coast and border guards on both sides of the Turkish-Greek border; and then face a barrage of violent push-backs as they attempt to trudge through the Western Balkans.
Many Europeans sympathise with the Afghan people fleeing the Taliban today, but very few know that brutal asylum and border policies have fortified Europe against the possibility of those same women, children and men reaching safety here, with only a few thousand making it into the EU, each year.
EU home affairs ministers also met this week. They were originally convened to discuss the arrival of Iraqi and African asylum seekers who were being encouraged to enter Lithuania, Latvia and Poland by the regime in Belarus.
Unsurprisingly, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has taken note of how easy it is to stoke political tensions in Europe by allowing migrants and refugees to cross borders into the EU, a tool which Turkish strongman Erdogan and, more recently, the Moroccan government, have used to great effect to blackmail the European Union.
And while EU Commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson stressed that returns to Afghanistan were off the table, the mantra from Brussels is still that attempts to seal EU borders -- with or without striking deals with autocrats to do so -- can be reconciled with respect for EU values.
But those values include respect for international asylum law, which is not compatible with publicly announced refusals of entry for exhausted families by the Latvian authorities; the introduction of indefinite detention for asylum seekers in Lithuania; and a history of violent push-backs of refugees at the Polish-Belarusian border
The truth is that EU leaders cannot continue to pander to both sides of the ideological divide on migration, claiming they are doing their utmost to protect endangered civilians in Afghanistan, whilst, at the same time, signalling that Europe’s borders are closed to refugees and migrants.
Instead, the EU should demonstrate that it is possible to manage migration in a way that is both humane and sustainable.
In the short term, the EU should focus on ensuring that all countries -- including its own member states -- keep their borders open to people fleeing violence and persecution. The EU should also heed the UN agency’s recent calls to stop returns to Afghanistan by officially suspending the readmission agreement it had signed with the Afghan government earlier this year, and end any fantasies of deporting Afghans to Iran or Pakistan. And it should substantially increase its resettlement quotas and humanitarian evacuation mechanisms to allow for more Afghan refugees to reach safety without facing extortion, exploitation and violence along the route.
In the longer term, the European Commission should revisit the Pact on Migration and Asylum which it put forward almost a year ago. Will warehousing even more people at the EU’s external borders and curtailing asylum rights really help to make asylum systems more effective and efficient, or will it condemn people to months or years of misery in a failed attempt to deter more from coming? And will pandering to the far-right -- be it within countries governed by centrist forces or the ruling parties in others -- paper over the deep divisions running through Europe over the rule of law or further reinforce them?
As the predictable tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan demonstrates yet again, most people escaping from wars generally end up internally displaced or in neighbouring countries. Instead of engaging in pre-emptive panic, the EU should use this opportunity to ensure that member states that still adhere to international norms, actually implement existing asylum laws and work together to host refugees in an equitable manner.
The current situation should not provide ammunition to extremists who seek to undermine the EU – rather, it should show how isolated they are.
_Giulia _Laganà is a senior policy analyst at Open Society European Policy Institute.
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