The European Union will do “everything possible” to prevent the current situation in Afghanistan from resulting in a new wave of refugees on its territory or the resumption of terrorist actions, indicates a statement released Tuesday (31) at the end of the meeting of the Interior Ministers of the 27 countries and the European Commission (Executive of the bloc).
The priority of the European bloc will be to help vulnerable Afghans – “especially women and children” – in its own country.
For this, the bloc must support the international institutions already operating in Afghanistan and strengthen the delivery of humanitarian aid.
According to the commissioner in charge of the case, Ylva Johansson, current information indicates that there is still no massive departure of Afghans and that some of those who had left their homes were returning. “We have to help make this comeback,” she said.
In the event of an exodus, however, the European Union’s determination is to support neighboring countries to keep the Afghans there, avoiding a race to European borders.
The decision is in line with new immigration rules proposed by the Commission in September last year, which focus more on preventing entry and speeding up the return of foreigners than on resolving them.
“Based on the lessons learned, the EU and its Member States are determined to prevent the recurrence of uncontrolled and large-scale illegal migratory movements encountered in the past by preparing a coordinated and orderly response,” the text said, referring mainly to to the crisis of 2015 and 2016, when nearly 2 million foreigners entered the bloc, fleeing mainly the war in Syria, but also Iraqis and Afghans.
According to Johansson’s statements at the end of the meeting, the Commission should take advantage of the crisis to try to speed up the ratification of the project. “There were several ministers who called for the adoption of the new pact. We are better prepared than in 2015, but we also need to have the legislation ready, as it is not possible to predict the future impact of this crisis, ”he said.
The EU statement released on Tuesday even uses the term “illegal migration”, seen as inappropriate and harmful by industry organizations.
The effort, according to the bloc, will include information campaigns to “combat the narratives used by brokers, which encourage people to embark on dangerous and illegal journeys to Europe.”
According to Ales Hojs, Slovenian Interior Minister (who holds the rotating EU presidency), this does not mean that the bloc is closing its doors to refugees. “We are just applying the ‘first safe country’ principle. Asylum requests can always be made from there, without having to go to the borders, ”he said.
Johansson strengthened the guidelines, saying “the right to seek refuge is not the same as the EU’s obligation to take in all refugees.”
In the statement, the bloc also said it would cooperate with Afghanistan’s neighbors to “prevent illegal migration in the region, strengthen border management capacities and prevent smuggling of migrants and human trafficking” .
In the case of the Afghans who worked for the EU institutions and their families and who were brought into the bloc in recent days, the secretary said member countries would still discuss a settlement plan.
One of the main concerns on Tuesday, according to the Slovenian minister, was how to exchange information and unite efforts to prevent “criminals” from taking advantage of the opportunity to settle in the European Union.
“Not all who arrive are women and children. Many are young men in their prime, I am told, and represent a potential threat to our security, ”Hojs said.
Some European politicians are worried about the resurgence of terrorist activities in their country, such as the one that has led to a series of attacks over the past two decades. “Security screening of people evacuated from Afghanistan remains crucial,” the statement said.
The bloc also wants to ensure that Afghanistan “does not once again become a sanctuary for terrorists and organized criminal groups”. “The Taliban say that has changed, but we are going to judge their actions, not their words,” Johanssen said.
According to her, “the EU is far from recognizing a Taliban regime and there is currently no government in Afghanistan.”
Although the Afghan crisis was the theme of the meeting, the statement also addresses the situation on the border with Belarus, where more than 5,000 immigrants have entered in recent months and where thousands more have been turned away.
“The Council (…) will respond to attempts to instrumentalize illegal migration for political ends and other hybrid threats, including the development of new tools,” the text specifies. Johansson and Hojs have both advocated for the construction of border fences, increased policing and the use of technologies such as drones.
The commissioner also said that the EU is still exerting other forms of pressure against the Belarusian regime, such as refusing to issue entry visas to people who collaborate with dictator Alexander Lukashenko.