Tuesday

28th Sep 2021

EU seeks Afghan safe passage to Pakistan

  • 80 percent of those displaced in the past month in Afghanistan are women and children (Photo: Michael Foley Photography)
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The EU is discussing safe passage with Pakistan and central Asian countries for a limited number of Afghan refugees. It is also relying on Turkey and Qatar to sort a deal with the Taliban for possible flights from Kabul airport.

"It's clear that it will not be in the short term," Paola Pampaloni, a senior official from the EU's foreign policy branch, told MEPs in the Libe committee on Wednesday (1 September).

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"We may need to wait for a few weeks before even an agreement has been happening [can be reached] with the Taliban," she said of the Turkey and Qatar talks.

The comments were made following a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on Monday, where the EU took a security-centric position against potential Afghan refugees. And they also come ahead of a foreign affairs ministerial meeting on Thursday in Slovenia, where Afghanistan will also be a focal point.

The EU has so far evacuated over 500 local staff and their families, most of whom were working at its delegation. It had also helped secure the evacuation of 18 Bulgarians. It now wants to evacuate Afghan human rights defenders, journalists, women activists and others via humanitarian corridors.

"We are talking about numbers that are very manageable by all our member states," said Pampaloni. "It is a limited number of people who are in this very dangerous situation and we have responsibility for them," she said.

EU council president Charles Michel discussed it with Pakistan's prime minister, she said. She said they also plan to activate the so-called Support Platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) - an initiative first set up in 2012.

Resettlement pledge later this month

The whole comes ahead of a separate meeting later this month to get EU members to pledge resettlement spots for fleeing Afghans. The EU and its member states have so far refused to announce any overall figures, out of fears that it would entice more Afghans to travel to Europe.

September will also see the EU adopt its new action plan against migrant smuggling, a document that seeks to further reinforce law-enforcement cooperation.

This includes an exchange of information intelligence among EU states but also with other countries in order "to have a clear picture of what are the security risks" in Afghanistan.

"All available tools, must be used to closely monitor the situation on the ground," Monique Pariat, a senior EU commission official, also told MEPs at the Wednesday meeting.

Relatively few Afghans have so far fled the country to Europe, when compared to the 3.5 million internally displaced. Some 500,000 of those displacements occurred in the past month alone, and amid the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"80 percent of this half million people displaced lately are women and children," said Pariat.

Officially, over two million Afghans are registered as refugees, mostly in Pakistan and other nearby countries. But these figures only reflect those registered, with many others likely undocumented.

Figures in the EU appear low in comparison.

Up until mid-August, around 4,700 irregular border crossings by Afghan nationals were detected at the EU's outer borders. This is 70 percent less than in 2019. Around 256,000 Afghans have refugee status in the EU with some 35,000 asylum applications lodged this year.

The Brussels-based NGO European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre) said that even a 50-percent increase of Afghan asylum applications would be manageable.

"We base that assessment on our thorough analysis of asylum systems across Europe, and analysis of the figures on Afghan applicants over the last six years," Ecre's secretary general, Catherine Woollard, also told MEPs.

EU prepares to keep out Afghan refugees

EU countries are preparing to stop Afghan refugees from potentially entering Europe en masse, amid fears of a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.

Opinion

The defeat of the 'Global War on Terror'

The United States' loss in Afghanistan has paved the way for autocracy, and Washington has offered it political legitimacy as a bonus. The Taliban are not only victors in the GWOT; they are now heroes of the anti-West front.

Letter

Open letter to Slovenian EU presidency on Afghan refugees

The right to seek asylum is a fundamental tenet of international law, and yet Iran and Pakistan have fortified their borders, leaving Afghans no escape. The EU should put pressure on Pakistan to allow refugees into the country.

EU seeks Afghan safe passage to Pakistan

The EU wants to create safe passage routes out of Afghanistan towards Pakistan and other central Asian states in order to evacuate Afghan women's rights activists and others with similar profiles.

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