Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

Letter

Open letter to Slovenian EU presidency on Afghan refugees

  • EU member states were directly involved in the war in Afghanistan, and have a moral duty to take all possible measures to protect the many Afghans whose lives are at risk (Photo: CNN)
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Dear Aleš Hojs, minister of the interior, Slovakia

On behalf of the European Coalition of Migrants and Refugees (EU-COMAR), I write to you in your capacity as minister of the interior of Slovenia, the president of the Council of the European Union, to urge you to take immediate, coordinated action to support Afghan refugees.

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The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has left the country torn apart and its people in danger. While the initial focus of the international community has been on the evacuation efforts from Kabul airport, millions of vulnerable Afghans are being left behind. Their protection is a priority and demands European focus.

As the Taliban continues to establish its power, and the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, many Afghans, especially women, girls, and human rights defenders, face devastating fates – marked by lack of access to their rights and, in many cases, death.

I know because I was almost a Taliban fighter myself.

I was born in the Helmand, a Taliban stronghold. At the age of 10, I was recruited by my family to fight for the Taliban in the civil war. My mother bravely helped me to escape this likely death sentence. And, after a long, arduous journey, Italy granted me refugee status in 2007.

As Kabul airport is handed over to the Taliban and the international presence on the ground leaves, what will happen to the vulnerable Afghans left behind? What will happen to the ten-year-old boys living in the Helmand region today? Who will protect civilians against extremists as they solidify control in the ungoverned space across Afghanistan?

The root causes of the instability that has gripped Afghanistan for decades – lack of accountability, credible governance, and health and education needs – still exist today.

It is in Europe's direct strategic interests to have a stable Afghanistan. As recent events have shown, Europe cannot rely on a US-led strategy anymore. We must act now, in the solidarity with the Afghan people, to prepare for this reality before it is too late.

The European Union's actions in the next few weeks are critical. EU member states were directly involved in the war in Afghanistan, and have a moral duty to take all possible measures to protect the many Afghans whose lives are at risk.

Yet, many European countries have expressed little to no willingness to open their doors to Afghan refugees. Many draw parallels to the Syrian refugee crisis, which rocked European politics and divided its people. This hesitation is understandable, but we still have time to ensure that Afghanistan does not become Syria.

Refugees will inevitably make their way to Europe, which is why a coordinated EU approach in handling the next wave of migration is key to prevent repeating the 2015 scenario which caught EU member states off guard.

As commissioner Ylva Johansson said, we should not wait until there are Afghan refugees at the border to intervene.

Therefore, we urge the European Union to take the following concrete steps to respond humanely and effectively to Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Concrete steps

First, the EU should refuse to accept the Taliban as a legitimate government.

As an influential trade block, the EU holds significant political and economic levers. This will also give the EU power to negotiate for the adherence to human rights, such as women's right to be educated and to work.

Those who remain in Afghanistan must not be left behind and their protection must be at the forefront of the EU's approach to Afghanistan. As democratic voices regroup on the ground, it is important for the EU to stand ready to support such voices as a legitimate counterweight to the Taliban.

Second, the European Union should advocate to keep a humanitarian corridor open for people who need to leave Afghanistan. We urge European member states to consider all options – including creating safe space on the ground to facilitate ongoing evacuation programmes from Kabul airport.

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, in coordination with UNHCR, should put pressure on Pakistan to allow refugees into the country.

Additionally, EU member states should lead international responsibility-sharing in response to the Afghan migration flow. To do this, EU member states must pledge resettlement places for Afghans; facilitate family reunifications for Afghans with relatives already in Europe; offer humanitarian visas to Afghans to facilitate safe passage; and ensure that all Afghans arriving irregularly are allowed to apply for asylum, as is their right.

Third, the EU should enact the Temporary Protection Directive, which applies when there is a risk of an asylum system struggling to cope with a "mass influx" of refugees.

This law was drafted to give the EU a plan for dealing with large numbers of refugees, which it did not have in the 1990s when many people entered the Union fleeing the wars in Yugoslavia and Kosovo. It was created to promote "solidarity and burden sharing" among EU states— exactly what member states need to do now, so no one country's resources are overburdened by an influx of people.

Fourth, the EU should support Estonia to introduce a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Afghanistan that calls for a multi-stakeholder response to the refugee crisis.

The EU must lead the UN Security Council's response to the current crisis in Afghanistan, with Estonia and key allies like Norway as the penholders for all resolutions at the UNSC on Afghanistan.

A strong UNSC resolution will help ease pressure on individual host countries, as well as Europe as a political union. Now, more than ever, Afghans need international leadership, and we are looking to Europe in our darkest hour.

Finally, the European Union should incorporate refugee views in designing its response to the Afghan crisis.

We can share intelligence and insights from the ground, support integration efforts, provide counter-terrorism support, and humanize the situation for the many states whose instincts are to panic and shut borders. If engaged, we can serve as assets to the EU, so that you can act quickly and effectively.

The EU is in a unique position to lead the international response to the Afghan refugee crisis with solidarity, compassion, and humanity. We urge you to act, now. And, as ever, we stand ready to support you in these efforts.

As the president of the Council, we are grateful that this letter is circulated across all EU member states.

Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Syed Hasnain

Founding Member, European Coalition of Migrants and Refugees

cc: EU member states

Author bio

Syed Hasnain is founding member of the European Coalition of Migrants and Refugees.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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