Half-a-dozen European Union countries have told Brussels they want to continue deporting Afghan migrants whose asylum-applications are denied — despite the Taliban's recent military successes, including overrunning eight of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals in the past week.
EU officials told reporters during a briefing Tuesday that they found it inconceivable any EU member states would want to continue with deportations while conflict is raging in Afghanistan and as the Taliban is making major inroads in the wake of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from the country. But the EU says it is up to the member states what they do, adding to confusion over who has final authority — member states or the European Commission.
“Given the context, it is hard to imagine that we would conduct forced return operations for the moment,” an EU official in Brussels said, adding that the continent isn’t facing an imminent major influx of Afghan migrants.
Six EU countries sent a joint letter August 5 to the European Commission warning against halting non-voluntary returns of Afghan migrants, arguing any suspension of deportations would act as a migration magnet and “motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU.”
Germany, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece signed the letter. “We would like to highlight the urgent need to perform returns, both voluntary and non-voluntary, to Afghanistan,” the interior ministers of the six countries wrote in their collective letter to the Commission. “Stopping returns sends the wrong signal,” they added.
About 1,200 Afghans have been deported from the EU this year — 1,000 agreed to go voluntarily but 200 or had to be forced to go, according to EU officials. Last month, the Afghan government called on European nations to stop deportations, saying it could not cope while also trying to fight the Taliban.
Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights told Austria not to proceed with the expulsion of an Afghan national until at least later in August because of a “risk of irreparable harm” to the asylum-seeker. Austria announced this month it will deploy additional soldiers to its borders with Slovenia and Hungary, boosting the number of its border guards by 40%.
European leaders are fearful of a new migration crisis impacting the continent and are negotiating another multi-year migration deal with Turkey to get Ankara to block Afghan and other asylum-seekers from heading their way.
It would be a renewal of a five-year deal struck in 2016 that saw the EU pay Ankara billions of dollars to curb irregular Europe-bound migration, improve the living conditions of refugees in Turkey, and foster legal migration through official resettlement schemes.
Around 2,000 Afghans a day are entering Turkey, and migration experts expect the numbers to surge as the Taliban seizes control of more of Afghanistan.
Asked last month at a press conference whether Germany should welcome Afghan refugees, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the architect of the 2015 open-doors policy that saw around a million asylum-seekers settle in Europe, replied: “We cannot solve all of these problems by taking everyone in.” She called instead for political negotiations so “people can live as peacefully as possible in the country.”
The head of the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, Antonio Vitorino, issued a statement Tuesday saying he’s “extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan — particularly the impact on mobile and displaced populations, including returnees.” He said around 5 million Afghans are already displaced internally.
Greek authorities say Afghans now make up the largest share of asylum-seekers who manage to navigate the Aegean from Turkey.
Speaking later Tuesday, Adalbert Jahnz, a European Commission spokesman, said each member state would need “to make an individual assessment of whether the return is possible in a specific set of circumstances, that needs to take into account the principles, notably the principle of rule of law and other fundamental rights.”
He stressed: “It’s not something that the EU specifically regulates.”
Critics, though, are accusing Brussels of being inconsistent in what it claims authority over when it comes to migration. Last week, the Commission was accused of playing post-Brexit politics by sabotaging a bilateral deal being negotiated between London and Paris. The proposed agreement would see France take back migrants who had tried to enter Britain from France by crossing the English Channel on small boats and dinghies.
Priti Patel, Britain’s interior minister, and French counterpart Gérald Darmanin inked an initial agreement supporting “the idea of a UK-EU readmission agreement to mutual advantage in terms of deterring illegal migration, protecting the vulnerable, and tackling the criminal gangs.” More than 10,000 asylum-seekers have crossed the Channel so far this year.
But the EU has scotched the deal progressing saying any agreement governing migrants is not a matter for the governments of individual member states to decide but for the bloc as a whole.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press.