23rd Mar 2023

Anti-refugee hawks dominate EU talks on Afghanistan

  • EU ministers met the same day the last US troops left Afghanistan after 20 year there
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German interior minister Horst Seehofer personally criticised his Luxembourg colleague, Jean Asselborn, on Tuesday (31 August) for saying the EU should be welcoming to Afghan refugees.

"Mr Asselborn should look at the problems of the big countries in the EU more", Seehofer said.

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"We're not talking about hundreds of people, but about many thousands who are already in Germany, and we have to make sure ... that these people are not a security risk," he added.

"After all, Luxembourg's always represented at these things with very small numbers. And they should be a little more considerate towards the interests of those countries who are mainly taking them [refugees] in," he also said.

Seehofer, whose centre-right party trails in polls ahead of German elections this month, spoke after Asselborn, earlier in the day, had urged Europe to follow the UK in being more open.

"It can't be just the UK that has pledged 20,000 settlements. Europe must also go in that direction", Asselborn had told press.

"The primary goal is to support people who are in mortal danger … not to secure borders," he noted.

"That's not the attitude that the European Union should have today," he said.

"In 2015, with the Syrian [migration] crisis, the EU faced a problem and we were not prepared. That's clear. Six years later, we're even less prepared to face this problem than in 2015. It's terrible to say so," Asselborn added.

Ireland had also urged the EU to soften Tuesday's formal joint statement by speaking about "irregular" migration instead of stigmatising asylum seekers as being "illegal".

And EU migration commissioner, Ylva Johansson, promised she would shortly convene a meeting of willing host countries to discuss voluntary resettlement.

But the final text of the EU communiqué used the word "illegal" anyway, while placing a strong accent on EU security fears.

And Johansson ruled out setting UK-style targets for taking in people in case it encouraged more of them to come.

"We are not setting up that kind of numbers and goals", she said.

Meanwhile, Austria and Denmark issued the most hawkish statements designed to discourage people from seeking shelter in Europe.

"The most important thing now is to send the right message to the region: 'Stay there, and we'll support the region to help the people there'," Austrian interior minister Karl Nehammer said.

"Political signals are very important. People shouldn't come to Europe. People should stay in their region," Danish interior minister Mattias Tesfaye added.

"We're afraid this situation could again result in terrorist attacks on EU soil," Slovenia's interior minister, Aleš Hojs, also said.

For their part, Poland and the Baltic states pushed counterparts to harden language in the EU statement alluding to the situation on their borders with Belarus, after the Belarusian regime began sending thousands of asylum seekers, including Afghan people, across the border in retaliation against EU sanctions.

The EU would "respond to attempts to instrumentalise illegal migration ... and other hybrid threats", Tuesday's communiqué said, connoting people in need as a dangerous weapon in what Poland has called "hybrid warfare".

EU money dangled

"The best way to avoid a migration crisis is to avoid a humanitarian crisis [in Afghanistan]", the Commission's Johansson noted, while pledging to quadruple financial aid to the country.

Neighbouring states in Central Asia would also be eligible for EU money if they agreed to host refugees, the EU statement said.

The EU, in recent years, paid €6bn to help Turkey take care of mostly Syrian refugees on the same model.

The Financial Times newspaper reported the EU would put aside €600m for its Afghan scheme.

But Germany's Seehofer said this might not be enough. "[It] depends whether the neighbouring countries think that this is sufficient," he said.

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