German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the meeting would focus on how to support each other to get EU citizens and local Afghan staffers out of the country, how to deal with the Taliban in the future and how to keep the region stable if people leave Afghanistan in big numbers.
“We will watch the developments very closely, and those who are now executing power in Afghanistan will be judged by their action,” Maas told reporters in Berlin. “We will especially focus on the stability of the region. The neighboring countries will certainly be confronted with further refugee movements.”
Many countries in Europe are concerned about an influx of refugees like the mass exodus from Syria in 2015. Afghans are among the biggest group seeking sanctuary in Europe, after Syrians. Some EU estimates suggest that about 570,000 Afghans have applied for asylum since 2015.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France, Germany and other European partners would work swiftly on a “robust response” to any new influx of unauthorized migrants from Afghanistan. He stressed it would be a joint effort and involve transit countries that Afghans may move through, which include Turkey.
“Europe cannot alone assume the consequences,” Macron said.
Austria, meanwhile, plans to suggest at Wednesday’s meeting of EU interior ministers that deportation centers be set up in countries that neighbor Afghanistan.
The arrival of well over 1 million migrants in 2015, mostly from Syria and Iraq, sparked one of the 27-nation EU’s biggest crises as nations bickered over how best to manage the influx.
Asylum applications by Afghan citizens have already climbed by a third since February as it became clear that the United States would pull its troops out of Afghanistan. More than 4,648 applications were lodged in May, according to the EU’s asylum office. About half of the applications tend to be successful.
More entries from Afghanistan should be manageable for the EU bloc of 450 million people. Most Afghans are likely to flee to Iran, Pakistan or other northern neighbors like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top German politicians warned of a possible new wave of refugees and appealed for assistance to help Afghanistan’s neighbors keep people close to their homes.
“This is primarily about helping neighboring countries to which the Afghan refugees may perhaps go,” Merkel told reporters.
The International Organization for Migration warned Tuesday of a growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as the conflict exacerbates the impact of a major drought and the coronavirus pandemic. It said nearly 400,000 people in Afghanistan have been displaced so far this year and that over 5 million others depend on aid.
The UN’s refugee agency is calling for a moratorium on the forced returns of Afghan citizens, including asylum-seekers who have had their claims rejected. The UNHCR also noted that “countries such as Iran and Pakistan have for decades generously hosted the vast majority of the total global number of Afghan refugees.”
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