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Europe fears Afghan refugee crisis after Taliban takeover

HANGEDIGI, Turkey (AP) – From above, the new border wall separating Turkey from Iran looks like a white serpent winding through the barren hills. So far, it only covers a third of the 540 kilometer (335 mile) border, leaving plenty of space for migrants to cross in the middle of the night.

Traffic on this key migratory route from Central Asia to Europe has remained relatively stable compared to previous years. But European countries, as well as Turkey, fear that the sudden return of the Taliban regime to Afghanistan will be a game-changer.

Haunted by a 2015 migration crisis fueled by the war in Syria, EU leaders are desperate to avoid another massive influx of migrants and refugees from Afghanistan. With the exception of those who aided Western forces in the country’s two-decade war, the message to Afghans considering fleeing to Europe is this: If you have to leave, go to neighboring countries, but don’t. don’t come here.

“It must be our aim to keep the majority of the population in the region,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said this week, echoing what many European leaders are saying.

European Union officials said at a meeting of interior ministers this week that the most important lesson of 2015 was not to leave the Afghans to their own devices, and that without urgent humanitarian assistance, they will begin to move, according to a confidential German diplomatic note obtained by The Associated. hurry

Austria, among EU extremists on migration, suggested creating “deportation centers” in countries neighboring Afghanistan so that EU countries can deport Afghans to whom the asylum has been refused even though they cannot be returned to their country of origin.

Desperate scenes of people hanging from planes taking off from Kabul airport have only heightened Europe’s concern over a potential refugee crisis. The United States and its NATO allies are scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who fear punishment from the Taliban for working with Western forces. But other Afghans are unlikely to receive the same reception.

Even Germany, which since 2015 has admitted more Syrians than any other Western country, is now sending a different signal.

Several German politicians, including Armin Laschet, candidate for the center-right Union bloc to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, warned last week that there should be no repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that “Europe alone cannot assume the consequences” of the situation in Afghanistan and “must anticipate and protect itself against significant irregular migratory flows”.

Britain, which left the EU in 2020, has said it will welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and resettle 20,000 in total in the years to come.

On top of that, there have been few concrete offers from European countries, which, besides evacuating their own Afghan citizens and collaborators, say they are focusing on helping Afghans inside their country and in neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

Europe “shouldn’t wait for people to stand at our external border,” said EU Home Commissioner Ylva Johanson.

Greece, whose picturesque islands off the Turkish coast were the European entry point for hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others six years ago, has made it clear that it does not did not want to relive this crisis.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Wednesday that Greece would not agree to be the “gateway for irregular flows to the EU” and that it considers Turkey a safe place for Afghans.

Such a speech makes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan see red. His country is already hosting 3.6 million Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Afghans, and he has used the threat of sending them to Europe as political leverage.

“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s repository for refugees,” Erdogan warned in a speech Thursday.

The Turkish president spoke on Friday about migration from Afghanistan in a rare phone call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and is also discussing the matter with Iran, a statement from Erdogan’s office said.

Attitudes towards migrants hardened in Europe after the 2015 crisis, fueling the rise of far-right parties like the Alternative for Germany, the largest opposition party in parliament ahead of next month’s federal elections .

Even in Turkey, migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, once treated as Muslim Brotherhood, are increasingly viewed with suspicion as the country grapples with economic challenges including rising inflation and unemployment. .

Acknowledging the public ‘unease’ over migration, Erdogan noted how his government had reinforced the eastern border with Iran with military, gendarmes, police and the new wall, under construction since 2017.

PA journalists near Turkey’s border with Iran met dozens of Afghans this week, mostly young men, but also women and children. Smuggled across the border at night in small groups, they said they left their country to escape the Taliban, violence and poverty.

“The situation in Afghanistan was intense,” said a young man, Hassan Khan. “The Taliban have captured all of Afghanistan. But there is no work in Afghanistan, we had to come here.

Observers say there is no indication of mass movement across the border yet. Turkish authorities say they have intercepted 35,000 Afghans illegally entering the country so far this year, up from more than 50,000 in 2020 and more than 200,000 in 2019.

Metin Corbatir, head of the Ankara-based Asylum and Migration Research Center, said there had recently been a slight increase in arrivals across the Iranian border, “but there is no migration from mass”.

Farha Bhoyroo, who works for the UN refugee agency in Iran, gave a similar assessment of the Afghan-Iranian border.

“So far the numbers are pretty stable,” she said. “We have seen a slight increase in the number of Afghan refugees coming to Iran, but we don’t qualify that as an influx. “

UNHCR estimates that 90% of the 2.6 million Afghan refugees outside the country live in neighboring Iran and Pakistan. The two countries also host large numbers of Afghans who have left in search of better economic opportunities.

By comparison, around 630,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in EU countries over the past 10 years, with the highest numbers in Germany, Hungary, Greece and Sweden, according to the agency. EU statistics. Last year, 44,000 Afghans applied for asylum in the bloc of 27 countries.

Jan Egeland, general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said it was not clear that the Taliban takeover would lead to another refugee crisis.

“I would caution against a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he told AP. The Afghans are “scared, confused, but they also hope that a long, long war will be over and maybe they can now avoid the crossfire.”

He said much depended on the Taliban allowing development and humanitarian work in the country and donor countries continuing to fund those efforts.

“If you had a utility collapse and there was a major food crisis, there would definitely be a mass movement of people,” Egeland said.


Ritter reported from Rome. PA reporters Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; Renata Brito in Barcelona, ​​Spain; Lorne Cook in Brussels; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.


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