Wednesday

22nd Sep 2021

Letter

Urgent EU action needed for Afghan refugees

  • Kabul airport where people are desperate to flee the Taliban. (Photo: CNN)

The dramatic events of the last few days in Afghanistan are etched on everyone's mind. The evacuation of Europeans and their Afghan collaborators is currently a top priority and a moral imperative for all countries that have been involved in the effort in Afghanistan from afar or close by.

But also for other Afghans who are fleeing or already have fled their country, EU member states must develop a more welcoming policy.

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  • Without EU action on Afghan refugees, it is very probably more and more people will take deadly routes trying to reach Europe. (Photo: Proactiva Open Arms)

These days, the comparison with the fall of Saigon in 1975 is often made. After that lost war, Western countries took in thousands of Vietnamese boat refugees. It was the least we could do.

Something similar is now urgently needed for the Afghan refugees. Sant'Egidio proposes the following concrete actions.

Firstly, legal and safe routes must be created. We propose that European countries urgently open "humanitarian corridors" for those Afghans in need of international protection.

Together with its partners in several EU states, Sant'Egidio is ready to make its contribution in terms of reception, private sponsorship, and assistance with integration.

This follows the model of the humanitarian corridors for Syrian and Eritrean refugees that have been realised in recent years with Italy, France, and Belgium in cooperation with various, mainly faith-based, organisations.

They are a model of cooperation between governments, international organisations, and civil society for the safe and controlled reception of vulnerable people.

Secondly, European countries can also do more for Afghan refugees already on European soil.

In recent years, Afghans have formed the second largest group of asylum seekers in the European Union, after Syrians but before Venezuelans. They are often very young people, unaccompanied minors, or families with children.

It was an indication of how bad things were going in that country. Nevertheless, many saw their asylum applications rejected.

European governments have now realised, and rightly so, that sending rejected asylum seekers back to Afghanistan by force is totally out of the question under these circumstances. Given the situation, it would also be appropriate to reconsider the asylum applications of those who were rejected.

Thirdly, it is necessary to reconsider the 'third safe country' rule.

Because this principle is applied to Turkey, thousands of Afghans are stuck on the Greek islands. Their asylum applications are not even being considered.

Our volunteers who are active on Lesvos also this summer from all over the European Union can testify to the hopelessness of their situation.

We call on Greece and the other European countries to reconsider this policy in the light of the current dramatic circumstances.

In the face of this tragedy, we must not erect more barriers, but rather break them down. Let us not only look on in horror at the developments in Afghanistan, but also take action.

For 20 years, Westerners and Afghans have been trying to build a free and democratic Afghanistan. This project has failed. Let us avoid that those who believed in it pay the price.

Author bio

Jan De Volder is secretary-general of Sant'Egidio BXL Europe, a lay Catholic association dedicated to social service.

Disclaimer

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

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