Six EU member states have sent a letter to the bloc’s executive warning against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers despite major advances of Taliban militants in their country.
The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have made sweeping gains in their campaign to defeat the government as US-led foreign forces pull out.
“Stopping returns sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU,” Austria, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Germany said in the letter dated Aug. 5 and seen by Reuters.
“This is why we urge you and your teams at the Commission to intensify talks with the Afghan government on how returns to Afghanistan can and will continue in the coming months.”
Many EU member states are nervous that developments in Afghanistan could trigger a replay of Europe’s 2015/16 migration crisis when the chaotic arrival of more than a million people from the Middle East stretched security and welfare systems and fueled political support for far-right groups.
The European Commission said it had received the letter from the six countries and would reply when ready.
Asked if the European Commission considers Afghanistan a safe country to which asylum seekers can be returned, a spokesman for the EU executive said it is up to member states to make that judgement.
“At an EU level there isn’t a list of countries considered safe relating to asylum applications or for returns. It’s up to each member state to assess ... the country of origin and the situation of the person concerned,” he said.
The issue is expected to come up at a crisis meeting of EU domestic affairs ministers on Aug. 18, which was arranged mainly to discuss a surge of illegal border crossings from Belarus to EU member state Lithuania. Poland and Latvia have also seen an increased flow of migrants from Belarus.
Since 2015, around 570,000 Afghans have requested asylum in the EU, the letter from the six EU countries noted, 44,000 in 2020 alone, making Afghanistan the second most important country of origin last year.
“We fully recognize the sensitive situation in Afghanistan in light of the foreseen withdrawal of international troops,” the countries said, adding that an estimated 4.6 million Afghans were already displaced, many of them in the region.
The six countries urged the bloc to look into providing the best support for refugees by increasing cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, defended the initiative against criticism.
“That regions of a country are not safe does not mean that each national of that country automatically is entitled to protection,” he said on Twitter.
A spokeswoman for the Netherlands’ Safety and Justice Ministry said that if individuals had the right to asylum they can get it but there should be no catch-all label for one country.
“The situation is very worrying, it’s always under review,” said spokeswoman Charlotte Hees.