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Europe and Afghan Refugees: A Renewed Humanitarian Crisis

Written by Hayley Hunter


2015 Refugee Crisis:

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August and the Taliban's subsequent takeover has caused European leaders to fear another influx of refugees to the continent. During the 2015 refugee crisis, Afghans were the second-largest group of refugees behind Syria. 193,000 Afghan refugees entered Europe out of the 1.3 million total refugees that made their way into Europe that year. Iran currently hosts the most Afghan refugees, but the country primarily serves as a passageway to Turkey and then Europe. Following Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to welcome Syrian refugees, Germany alone took in roughly 1.1 million refugees in 2015. The policy earned her sharp criticism across Germany and Europe and divided her Christian Democrat party from their sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union.


Far-Right Parties:

With German and French elections soon after the U.S. withdrawal, politicians in both states were wary of announcing plans regarding Afghan refugees over fears that this could hurt them come time for the polls. The 2015 refugee crisis sparked a rise in support for far-right parties across Europe, including the AfD in Germany, the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen in France, and both the League and the Brothers of Italy parties in Italy. These parties ran campaigns based on opposition to immigration and Islam. The AfD in Germany won the third most seats in the Bundestag, the German federal parliament. The party has weakened since then, primarily due to internal divisions and the fact that immigration is not as urgent of an issue. However, German leaders feared that an announcement of refugee intakes just weeks before national elections could bring support for far-right parties back to 2017 levels.

Europe and Afghanistan:

Many European countries supported the U.S. in its invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11, obliging them to moral responsibility for its aftermath. However, Afghan refugees are facing a compassion shortage in Europe. Austria, part of one of the migrant routes in 2015, said that they have ruled out taking in Afghan refugees. Greece had said that it would not be a gateway to Europe, like in 2015 and 2016 when more than one million people crossed into the country. Greece has also recently created a 25-mile wall along its border with Turkey. France has called for a "robust response" to keep Afghans closer to home. This plan would seek to resettle Afghan refugees in neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.


In March 2016, the EU made a deal with the Turkish government that Turkey would help prevent migrants and refugees from crossing onto the Greek island from Turkey. In exchange, Turkey would receive 6 billion Euros to improve the situation of refugees in the country and visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish nationals. The agreement's purpose was to stem the flow of migrants into Europe's borders and to show a sign of solidarity among EU members on how to handle the crisis. The last of the 6 billion euros was committed in December 2020, and since then, there have been talks of renewing the agreement.

Current Policies:

European Commissioner Ylva Johansson, who handles migration and home affairs for the bloc, believes Europe has an obligation to help Afghan refugees. "This ultimately comes down to a question of trust. Trust between member states. Trust for Europeans that migration can be managed. Trust that Europe will always live up to its enduring duty to the most vulnerable and most in need," said von der Leyen.


Organizations including Human Rights Watch are calling for Europe to lead by example and resettle at-risk Afghans. The HRW is petitioning for European states to take action by doing the following:

  • Pledge resettlement places for Afghans from countries of first arrival and transit in numbers commensurate with the crisis;

  • Revisit all asylum rejections affecting Afghans and provide them temporary legal status;

  • Facilitate family reunification for Afghans with relatives already in European countries;

  • Provide humanitarian visas to Afghans in Afghanistan and neighboring countries to allow safe travel and consider lifting visa requirements for Afghans;

  • Ensure that all Afghans arriving irregularly at external European borders can apply for asylum and apply for family reunification in another EU country.

The HRW is also seeking assistance from the EU by asking them to do the following:

  • Consider invoking and implementing the Temporary Protection Directive to streamline access to EU territory, equitable responsibility-sharing, and expedited protection while working toward durable solutions;

  • Work with the entire G7 to urgently convene a larger meeting of concerned states to reach a global agreement on refugee resettlement policies and humanitarian needs.

Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries, will take in up to 4,000 Afghan refugees. The refugees are staying in resorts along the Adriatic coast. Several foreign organizations are covering their room and board, including the National Endowment for Democracy, the Yalda Hakim Foundation, and George Soros' Open Society Foundation. The Open Society Foundation is paying for 135 Afghans who worked with the organization in Afghanistan to stay at a high-end hotel and spa down the coast. According to Edi Rama, Albania's Prime Minister, taking in Afghan refugees is a popular position. In addition, Albania itself has a long history of citizens leaving the country. Therefore, providing for the refugees "is the right and natural thing to do. We don't put people in camps. They are dehumanizing and where all the problems start psychologically. We have been like them many times in our own history. They are just trying to escape from hell," said the Prime Minister.


Spain has set up a reception camp with a capacity of 800 for Afghans who worked with European institutions and projects. This camp is designed so that refugees have 72 hours from their arrival to either apply for asylum in Spain or be relocated to another EU country. So far, only a few European countries have said they will take in some of the refugees from this camp. The United Kingdom has pledged to resettle 5,000 Afghans in the first year and another 15,000 later.

Conclusion:

Nearly six months have passed since the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan, but the EU has shown no signs of changing its policies towards Afghan refugees. The acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told Western diplomats that "weakening the Afghan government is not in the interest of anyone because its negative effects will directly affect the world in (the) security sector and economic migration from the country."

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