Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Von der Leyen offers funding for resettling Afghans

  • European Council president Charles Michel (l), EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez tour a military base in Spain which has provided the hub for Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan (Photo: European Commission)
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EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive was ready to provide funding to EU countries that help resettle Afghan refugees and more humanitarian aid for the country recently overrun by the Taliban.

Von der Leyen spoke on Saturday (21 August) in Spain, where she visited a reception centre in Madrid for Afghan employees of the EU who had been evacuated from Kabul.

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A plane carrying 110 Afghan refugees and their families arrived at a Spanish-based EU hub at a military base outside Madrid on Saturday night, including 36 people who had worked for the US administration in Afghanistan.

The base is being used to host Afghan refugees who worked with the EU and their families and who will be resettled in other EU countries. Spain also agreed with Washington that two military bases in southern Spain can be used to receive Afghans who have worked for the US.

The commission chief said the EU was not in talks with the Taliban, and it did not recognise it as the new Afghan government.

Von der Leyen also said she would propose an increase of €57m to the humanitarian aid the commission had allocated this year for Afghanistan, which she said was conditional on respect for human rights, including women's rights, and the good treatment of minorities.

"We may well hear the Taliban's words but we will measure them above all by their deeds and actions," von der Leyen told reporters in Spain.

Von der Leyen said that the commission was ready to provide funding to EU countries that help resettle refugees, and she planned to raise the resettlement issue at a G7 meeting on Tuesday (24 August).

She said refugees should have "legal and safe routes globally, organised by us, the international community."

Fears over a wave of migrants arriving from Afghanistan has once again highlighted that EU countries have been unable to agree on reforming the common asylum system for six years.

The reform has been stuck in negotiations since the migration wave of 2015 when more than 1 million asylum seekers arrived in the EU.

Meanwhile, some EU countries seem to be taking matters into their own hands.

Greece has installed a 40km fence and surveillance system on its border with Turkey amid concern over a surge of asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

"We cannot wait, passively, for the possible impact," Greece's citizens' protection minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said on a visit to the region of Evros last Friday.

"Our borders will remain inviolable," he added.

Austria's conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz said over the weekend that he opposed taking in any more people fleeing Afghanistan.

Austria took in more than one percent of its population in asylum seekers during Europe's migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, but Kurz has been taking a hard line on immigration, winning every parliamentary election since 2017.

"I am clearly opposed to us now voluntarily taking in more people and that will not happen during my chancellorship," Kurz said in an interview with TV channel Puls 24.

Austria has more than 40,000 Afghan refugees, the second-biggest number in Europe after Germany, according to the UN's refugee agency.

Military force now

The EU'S foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who was also in Spain over the weekend, said that the fall of Kabul and the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan showed that Europe needed to develop its own military capacity, independent of the US.

In an interview with AFP, Borrell said EU countries would struggle to evacuate their citizens and Afghan allies before the US ended its operation at Kabul airport, which is planned for 31 August.

Without the protection of the 6,000 US troops deployed at the airport, EU operations may have to cease. So far only 150 of the 400 Afghans working for the EU - and their families - have been able to leave.

Borrell said that problem has been access to the airport, where the US maintains security.

"I regret greatly the way in which things have gone, but no-one asked for the opinion of the Europeans," Borrell said.

"Some countries are going to have to ask themselves questions about an American ally which, as [US president] Joe Biden said, doesn't want to fight other people's wars for them," Borrell added.

"The Europeans don't have a choice. We must organise ourselves to deal with the world as it is and not the world that we dream of," he told AFP, adding that the EU would propose "a 50,000-strong expeditionary force, capable of acting in circumstances like we're seeing in Afghanistan."

Afghans' plight reignites migration fears in Europe

Several EU member states are worried that the Taliban takeover would trigger a replay of the 2015-16 migration crisis when the bloc has seen the arrival of over one million asylum seekers in a matter of months.

Deadlock looms on EU's new asylum pact

MEPs working on the new EU-wide asylum reforms have cast doubt on whether agreement will be reached with their co-legislating member state counterparts. A proposal to create independent monitors on human rights is also on shaky ground.

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