Today was the deadline Biden set for the departure of US soldiers from Afghanistan. What‘s going to happen now? At least European Heads of Government are trying to take action now, out of fear of a refugee stream as it did in 2015.
Afghanistan’s new powers celebrated today. The country is “free” from foreign soldiers for the first time in twenty years. “I congratulate you and our nation for freedom,” a Taliban official said today to a group of soldiers who now control Kabul Airport for the current government. “I hope Afghanistan will never be occupied again and it becomes a free, prosperous home of Afghans.”
But many Afghans don‘t believe in that: more than a hundred thousand inhabitants have already been evacuated by Western powers. A few hundred thousand would also want to leave because they have worked for Western countries or because they belong to a group that could potentially be victims of persecution by the Taliban. According to the UNHCR international refugee organization, 550,000 Afghans were fled this year, of which 390,000 are within their own borders. Are those people going to flee, and where are they going?
The Taliban also took Kabul Airport today after the last Americans left:
The 27 European Ministers for Migration met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the possible situation. “The European season has not even started yet, but it needs to be thought,” says Hekster. “That’s why those 27 Migration Ministers had come together.”
European countries are responding differently for the time being. The United Kingdom (no longer in the EU) has announced its intention to absorb 5,000 evacuees in the coming period, with a maximum of 20,000 over the next two years. German Home Secretary Horst Seehofer warned EU countries not to pronounce such a ‘target’ because it could have a priming effect.
“That‘s what the nerves are for,” says Hekster. “That hundreds of thousands of Afghans will come to Europe again. But that’s not sure yet. Afghanistan is also a lot further than Syria.”
Secretary of State Ankie Broekers-Knol tells Nieuwsuur that the statement is “to the extent that we all face this enormous dramatic situation in Afghanistan”. But nothing has been brought out about the concrete interpretation of any reception, such as numbers, distribution and infrastructure.
According to Hekster, there is a good chance that a real decision on a migration pact is still waiting: elections will soon be in Germany and France.
According to Jonathan Holslag, lecturer of international politics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, it is difficult to predict whether another ‘exodus’ of refugees will arrive. “The number of refugees will remain manageable in the coming period. It will be several hundreds of thousands, which will be limited to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. They will find their way to the Mediterranean or the Balkan countries.”
But Holslag believes that Europe should look beyond the short term. “The migration pressure in Afghanistan will remain and in the countries around it they don‘t want to know about those refugees. Uzbekistan has said it wanted to include between a thousand and fifteen hundred. Pakistan has already said, it’s enough, and is starting to send them back to the borders.”
China, because of its political circumstances, and the United States, due to its distance, are not an option. “So, even though that geographical distance is enormous, Europe continues to lick on that map for many refugees as the ultimate destination.”