Will the Taliban takeover lead to a new European refugee crisis?

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Since 2015, European nations have fortified their borders, meaning large flows of refugees are unlikely, analysts say.

As European countries struggle to respond to the Taliban’s swift conquest of Afghanistan, questions about whether the continent would witness a significant surge in asylum seekers are surfacing.

On Monday, amid scenes of mayhem at Kabul airport, when thousands of Afghans desperately tried to board the few planes leaving the country, EU leaders promised to protect Afghan personnel who worked with their militaries and diplomatic staff.

Many others, however, are concerned about the likelihood of significant numbers of Afghan refugees fleeing the nation and making their way to Europe.

On Tuesday, EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency video conference to discuss the crisis. They will likely debate the security situation as well as the likelihood of rising migration to Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised to safeguard “those who are most at risk” in a televised address on Monday, and said he would work with Germany to devise a strategy to manage growing migration from Afghanistan.

“We must foresee and protect ourselves from big irregular migratory flows that harm people who use them and feed all types of trafficking,” he warned.

More than one million migrants, mostly from Syria, came in Europe in 2015, igniting a political backlash in many countries and fundamentally altering official attitudes toward migration.

“It is evident that our country will not be a conduit for a new surge of refugees,” Greek immigration minister Notis Mitarachi told a local television station on Monday.

On February 28, 2020, Afghan refugees in a boat approach a beach near the hamlet of Skala Sikamias on the Greek island of Lesbos. [Reuters/Costas Baltas/File]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated in a confidential government meeting that her country may have to evacuate up to 10,000 individuals, including local personnel and activists as well as those who are at risk of Taliban retaliation.

However, Christian Democrat leader Armin Laschet, who is expected to succeed Merkel after the September election, stated that 2015 should not be repeated.

Meanwhile, Austria has proposed the establishment of “expulsion centers” in neighboring countries to allow for the ongoing deportation of Afghan refugees, which is currently difficult because the Taliban rules the nation.

Amnesty International has urged the international community to act promptly to protect those in danger, including expediting visas, providing emergency evacuation, offering resettlement, and stopping any deportations to Afghanistan.

‘Likely to be a manageable situation’

The Taliban’s quick progress, according to humanitarian organizations, has exacerbated an already dire situation in Afghanistan.

Since the beginning of the year, the UN estimates that over 550,000 people have been displaced.

Since May, over 250,000 people have been displaced, with about 80% of them being women and children.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 20,000 to 30,000 people depart the country each week.

According to Catherine Woolard, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, “the vast majority of persons displaced from Afghanistan will be housed in the region in neighboring countries.”

On Friday, March 6, 2020, an Afghan family gathers in an abandoned structure near the Turkish-Greek border in Edirne. [AP Photo/Felipe Dana]
Afghans have filed the second-highest number of asylum claims in the EU since 2018, just behind Syrians, and the number has risen significantly this year as the violence in Afghanistan has increased.

However, the overall number of irregular migrants entering at EU external borders is a fraction of what it was six years ago, with only 43,000 coming so far this year compared to 1.04 million in 2015.

Since then, European countries have spent massive sums strengthening their external borders, and in 2016, they agreed to pay Turkey six billion euros ($7 billion) to keep refugees and migrants out of Europe.

According to Helena Hahn, a migration analyst at the European Policy Centre, the most recent asylum applications from Afghans are likely from those who fled the country some time ago, and the impact of this week’s events will take time to manifest.

“At the present, this containment and deterrence approach is quite strong,” she said. “It is quite difficult for anyone to get into Iran or Turkey; there is already a lot of opposition. This will almost certainly have an impact on any movement we see.”

Those who make it to the Mediterranean may have to flee European border authorities.

Several human rights organizations have accused Greek security personnel of habitually performing illegal pushbacks, which Athens denies.

According to Hahn, over half of Afghans who ask for asylum in the EU are granted asylum, although acceptance rates vary greatly between nations, ranging from 1 to 99 percent.

She noted that until the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes, this is likely to converge.

An Afghan family rests in an abandoned shepherd’s house near the Turkish city of Van after crossing the Iran-Turkey border, June 8, 2021 [Sedat Suna/EPA-EFE]
The largest majority of Afghan refugees are registered in the neighboring nations of Iran and Pakistan, which house about 1.4 million and one million refugees, respectively, while unofficial figures are far higher.

There is little public support for bringing in more refugees, and Pakistan has stated that it will only allow Afghans access to refugee camps near the border, but will not “take in” more people.

Iran is building temporary refugee camps along the border, but stressed that if the situation calms down, the refugees will be expected to return to Afghanistan.

Turkey has continued to reinforce its border with Iran to deter irregular crossings, while hosting the world’s largest refugee population of four million people, the majority of whom are Syrian.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoan announced on Sunday that he will work to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan in order to avert a migrant wave; at least 27,000 Afghans have entered Turkey this year.

In the weeks leading up to Kabul’s conquest, tens of thousands of Afghans fled to the capital in search of safety, only to be imprisoned with no way out.

The Taliban leadership has announced an amnesty for government employees and made statements implying that women’s rights will be respected.

Many, though, fear a return to the group’s leadership of the country, which lasted from 1996 to 2001.

Girls and women were barred from school and employment during this time, with religious police subjecting anyone who disobeyed their interpretation of Islamic law to public humiliation and beatings.

“Everyone wants to get out,” said Afghan analyst Barin Sultani Haymon, who is based in London.

“The Taliban and their actions are well-known across the world. There is so much fear of the unknown, regardless of how calm the transition is.”

According to Haymon, Europe’s engagement in the Afghanistan conflict obligates it to defend more than simply Afghans who work directly for them.

“There are a lot of women who haven’t been associated with international organizations before, but they’re now being targeted.

“They’re judges or lawyers, and they’ve been living their lives as if they’ve been free for the past 20 years. They’ve been abandoned, and there’s no way for them to get out.”

Source: Aljazeera

Saizul Amin

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