Six EU Countries Warn Against Open Door for Afghan Asylum Seekers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -
An internally displaced child from northern provinces, who fled from his home due the fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sleeps in a public park that they use as shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 10, 2021.(REUTERS/Stringer)

Six EU member states have warned the bloc’s executive against halting deportations of
rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe despite major advances of Taliban militants in their country.

The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have made sweeping gains in their campaign to defeat the government as U.S.-led foreign forces pull out.

“Stopping returns sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU,” Austria, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Germany said in an Aug. 5 letter to the European Commission.

“This is why we urge you and your teams at the Commission to intensify talks with the Afghan government on how returns to Afghanistan can and will continue in the coming months,” they said in the letter seen by Reuters.

The Netherlands and Germany on Wednesday abruptly reversed course and said they would not for
the time being deport Afghan citizens who are seeking asylum, given the rapidly escalating conflict in their homeland.

The decisions by The Hague and Berlin contradicts the letter.

German interior ministry spokesman Steve Alter announced the new decision on Twitter “in light of the current security situation” in Afghanistan, hours after journalists were told at a government news conference that deportations would continue despite major advances by Taliban insurgents.

In a letter to parliament, Dutch deputy Justice Minister Ankie Broekers-Knol said the Netherlands had planned to update its policy on Afghanistan in October but had made the decision now “in light of the quickly deteriorating situation” there.

“The situation is undergoing such changes and developments and is so uncertain for the coming time, that I have decided to impose a freeze on decisions and deportations” in ongoing asylum cases, Broekers-Knol wrote.

Many EU member states are nervous that developments in Afghanistan could trigger a replay of Europe’s 2015/16 migration crisis when the chaotic arrival of more than a million people from the Middle East stretched security and welfare systems and fueled support for far-right groups.

Asked if the European Commission considers Afghanistan a safe country to which asylum seekers can be returned, a spokesman said it is up to member states to make that judgement.

The issue is expected to come up at a crisis meeting of EU domestic affairs ministers on Aug. 18, which was arranged mainly to discuss a surge of illegal border crossings from Belarus to EU member state Lithuania, Poland and Latvia.

Since 2015, around 570,000 Afghans have requested asylum in the EU, the letter from the six EU countries noted, 44,000 in 2020 alone, making Afghanistan the second most important country
of origin last year.

“We fully recognise the sensitive situation in Afghanistan in light of the foreseen withdrawal of international troops,” the countries said, adding that an estimated 4.6 million Afghans were already displaced, many of them in the region.

The six countries urged the bloc to look into providing the best support for refugees by increasing cooperation with
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

A senior EU official said some 400,000 Afghans have been internally displaced over recent months and in recent days there has been an increase in numbers of people fleeing to Iran.

He described the situation as less dramatic than recent crises in Syria and Iraq because Kabul still has a solid
government that the EU can work with. Nevertheless, forced returns of asylum seekers would be difficult now.