Haunted by a 2015 migration crisis fuelled by the Syrian war, European leaders desperately want to avoid another large-scale influx of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan.
Except for those who helped Western forces in the country’s two-decade war, the message to Afghans considering fleeing to Europe is: If you must leave, go to neighbouring countries, but don’t come here.
“It must be our goal to keep the majority of the people in the region,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said last week, echoing what many European leaders say.
European Union officials told a meeting of interior ministers last week the most important lesson from 2015 was not to leave Afghans to their own devices, and without urgent humanitarian help they will start moving, according to a confidential German diplomatic memo obtained by The Associated Press.
Austria, among the EU’s migration hardliners, suggested setting up “deportation centres” in countries neighbouring Afghanistan so EU countries can deport Afghans who have been denied asylum – even if they cannot be sent back to their homeland.
The desperate scenes of people clinging to aircraft taking off from Kabul’s airport have only deepened Europe’s anxiety over a potential refugee crisis. The United States and its NATO allies are scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who fear they will be punished by the Taliban for having worked with Western forces. But other Afghans are unlikely to get the same welcome.
Even Germany, which since 2015 has admitted more Syrians than any other Western nation, is sending a different signal today.
‘Partnerships with third-party countries’
Several German politicians, including Armin Laschet, the centre-right Union bloc’s candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, has warned there must be “no repeat” of the migration crisis of 2015.
French President Emmanuel Macron stressed “Europe alone cannot shoulder the consequences” of the situation in Afghanistan and “must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows”.
Britain, which left the EU in 2020, said it would welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and resettle 20,000 Afghans in coming years.
Besides that, there have been few concrete offers from European countries, which besides evacuating their own citizens and Afghan staff, say they are focusing on helping Afghans inside their country and in neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan.