The European Union (EU) will do “everything possible” to prevent the current situation in Afghanistan from translating into a new wave of refugees in its territory or the resumption of terrorist actions, says a statement released on Tuesday (31) after the meeting of the interior ministers of the 27 countries and the European Commission.
The European bloc’s priority will be to help vulnerable Afghans — “especially women and children” — within its own country. To that end, the EU must support international institutions already operating in the Central Asian nation and step up the delivery of humanitarian aid.
According to the commissioner responsible for the issue, Ylva Johansson, current information is that there is still no mass departure of Afghans and that part of those who had left their homes were returning. “We have to help with that return,” she said.
In the event of an exodus, however, the European Union’s determination is to support neighboring countries so that they keep the Afghans there, avoiding a race to European borders. The decision is in line with the new immigration rules proposed by the Commission in September of last year, more focused on preventing entry and speeding up the return of foreigners than on settling them.
“Based on the lessons learned, the EU and its Member States are determined to prevent the recurrence of uncontrolled and large-scale illegal migratory movements faced in the past, preparing a coordinated and orderly response”, says the text, referring mainly to the crisis of 2015 and 2016, when nearly 2 million foreigners entered the bloc — mostly fleeing the war in Syria, but also Iraqis and Afghans.
According to Johansson’s statements after the meeting, the Commission should take advantage of the crisis to try to speed up the ratification of the project. “There were several ministers who asked for the adoption of the new pact. We are more prepared than in 2015, but we also need to have the legislation ready, as it is not possible to predict the future impact of this crisis”, he said.
The EU statement released on Tuesday even uses the term “illegal migration”, considered inappropriate and prejudiced by organizations in the sector.
The effort, according to the bloc, will include information campaigns to “combat the narratives used by brokers, which encourage people to embark on dangerous and illegal trips to Europe.”
According to Ales Hojs, Slovenia’s interior minister, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency, this does not mean that the bloc is closing its doors to refugees. “We are just applying the ‘first safe country’ principle. Asylum requests can still be made from there, without them having to come to the borders,” he said. Johansson reinforced the guidance, saying that “the right to seek refuge is not the same as the EU’s obligation to receive all refugees”.
In the communiqué, the bloc also said it would cooperate with Afghanistan’s neighbors to “prevent illegal migration in the region, strengthen border management capacity and prevent migrant smuggling and human trafficking.” In the case of Afghans who worked for European institutions and their families and were transported to the bloc in recent days, the secretary said that member countries will still discuss a settlement plan.
On Tuesday, according to the Slovenian minister, one of the main concerns was how to exchange information and join efforts to prevent “criminals” from taking advantage of the opportunity to settle in the EU.
“Not all who arrive are women and children. Many are young men in their prime, I am told, and pose a potential threat to our safety,” said Hojs.
Part of European politicians are concerned about the resurgence of terrorist activity in their countries, such as the one that led to a series of attacks in the past two decades. “The security check of people evacuated from Afghanistan remains crucial,” the statement said.
The bloc also wants to ensure that Afghanistan “does not once again become a sanctuary for terrorists and organized crime groups.” “The Taliban is saying it has changed, but we are going to judge their actions, not their words,” Johansson said. According to her, “the EU is far from recognizing a Taliban regime and there is currently no government in Afghanistan.”
The UN, through a statement from its secretary general, António Guterres, called for easier access to Afghanistan for international assistance and the sending of what it called “vital and essential supplies”.
“A humanitarian catastrophe is just around the corner”, said the Portuguese, referring to the departure of American troops, also mentioning a “threat of a total collapse of basic services”.
Although the Afghan crisis was the theme of the meeting, the EU communiqué also addressed the situation on the border with Belarus, where more than 5,000 immigrants have entered in recent months and where thousands more have been turned away. “The advice […] it will respond to attempts to instrumentalize illegal migration for political purposes and other hybrid threats, including the development of new tools”, states the text. Both Johansson and Hojs advocated building border barriers, increased policing and the use of technology such as drones.
The commissioner also said that the EU still has other forms of pressure against the Belarusian regime, such as refusing to issue entry visas to people who collaborate with dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko.