Millions in northern Afghanistan are at risk of starvation, but the shadows of the 2015 migration crisis loom over the EU’s sympathy for those trying to flee.
“Some 5 million people in northern Afghanistan face a direct threat of famine … the situation is not so bad for now, but when the snow comes it will be difficult to distribute the food,” said the head of Foreign Affairs of the EU, Josep Borrell, to the MEPs in Strasbourg. on Tuesday (September 14).
They were unlikely to try to come to Europe due to the mountainous terrain they would have to cross, he added.
But the threat of brutality from the Taliban, skyrocketing food prices, and a financial system in “free fall” meant that Afghans who had worked with Western powers and their new middle class, in more generals, they would probably try to go to America. Australia or the EU, Borrell noted.
“They will be on the move, if the Taliban allow it … Population flows will occur. No one knows how big they will be. Not as big as in the Syrian war, but it depends on what happens,” he said.
“I don’t think there will be a big migration to Europe, unless there is a civil war,” Borrell said.
The EU’s top diplomat said Europe should try to deliver aid to Afghans who are at risk of starvation for moral reasons rather than tactics.
And he urged EU states to welcome refugees.
But he also nodded at the right-wing sentiment shown when EU interior ministers discussed the Afghan crisis two weeks ago.
“Nobody wants our offer [resettle] Afghans at risk can be seen as a knock-on effect … ministers understand what happened in 2015 and 2016 during the Syrian crisis. No. We don’t want to create a draw effect, “Borrell said Tuesday.
More than 1 million refugees entered the EU in 2015, many of whom made their way to Germany after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country could take care of them.
For their part, the main political groups in the European Parliament were less concerned than Borrell about a pull factor.
“We have to make sure those at risk can come to us,” said Michael Gahler, a former German diplomat and MEP for Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, despite the CDU facing elections. nationals in two weeks time.
Pedro Marques, a center-left Spanish MEP, said: “Europe cannot increasingly become the land of closed borders … We owe it to the Afghans.”
“We must build solidarity among member states to welcome Afghan asylum seekers,” said Petras Austrevicius, a Liberal from Lithuania.
“The Council of Justice and Home Affairs [EU interior ministers] gave a wrong and selfish message. Leave the [European] parliament gives the right direction, “added Tineke Strik, Dutch Green MEP.
But despite all that, Loucas Fourlas, a center-right Cypriot MEP, pointed out that EU states had not shown solidarity in sharing the burden of refugees in recent years.
“We cannot leave this in the hands of the European countries that face the problem on the front line,” he said.
And hostility against refugees also reared its head in Strasbourg when Jérôme Rivière, a MEP from the far-right National Rally France party, which is running for power in next year’s French elections, spoke out.
EU citizens were being “suffocated” by large numbers of Syrian immigrants, he said, whom he also blamed for the terror attacks.
“I reject another wave of migration from Afghanistan … France, first and foremost, rejects it,” Rivière said.
Voice of the EU
Politics aside, Borrell also revealed how little control the EU had over events on the ground in Afghanistan.
It had quadrupled its humanitarian aid budget to about € 200 million by 2021, but this was “a drop in the bucket” of what was needed, it said.
The EU embassy in Kabul was still technically open, but all the embassies of the EU member states were closed, he noted.
And while Europe “had no choice” but to speak to the Taliban, the closest EU diplomats who tried to do so, via video link, were currently based in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Borrell said.
Some EU staff members were willing to return to Kabul to help coordinate European diplomacy, he noted.
But security conditions were not adequate “for the moment,” he said.
The newly appointed Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, also on Tuesday, extended an olive branch to the West and urged global donors to resume development aid.
“America is a great country, so you should have a lot of patience. We should help each other,” he said in Kabul, Reuters reported.
And the Taliban have promised safe passage for international humanitarian workers.
But he has also faced allegations of recent atrocities, such as the massacre of at least 20 civilians in the Panjshir Valley uncovered by a BBC investigation.
MEPs in Strasbourg highlighted his “barbaric” treatment of women.
And Borrell admitted that trying to talk to the Taliban about human rights sounded like a contradiction in terms. “Maybe it’s a pure oxymoron, but that’s what we have to ask of them,” he said.