Will Afghanistan Create Another Migrant Crisis for Europe?

Six years ago, more than 1.2 million migrants from many parts of the world fled to Europe, traveling hundreds or thousands of kilometers to seek a new life in a crisis that has left deep political scars.  Is the continent about to experience another refugee crisis, as millions of Afghans try to escape the Taliban? Several European leaders have voiced such fears in recent days. In a televised address on August 16, French President Emmanuel Macron said “dealing with those fleeing the Taliban would need an organized and fair international effort.”  “Europe alone cannot assume the consequences of the current situation,” he added. Migrants, mainly coming from Afghanistan, walk at a deportation center in Van, Turkey, that borders Iran, Aug. 23, 2021.In Germany, the general secretary of the ruling Christian Democrats told broadcaster n-tv, “For us, it is clear that 2015 must not be repeated. … We won’t be able to solve the Afghanistan question through migration to Germany.”  In 2015, the majority of those entering Europe were fleeing the war in Syria. After crossing into Turkey, they were able to enter Greece, a member of the European Union, either by crossing by boat to the Greek islands or by attempting to breach the land frontier over the Evros River that separates the two countries. The journey then took them through the Balkans and beyond into Western Europe. Afghan migrants attempting a similar journey face many more obstacles. Turkey is building a fence along its frontier with Iran, the main route for Afghan migrants heading to Europe.  Similarly, Greece has also completed the construction of a border fence along its land frontier with Turkey. Many migrants trying to reach the Greek islands from Turkey by boat have found themselves stranded in overcrowded refugee camps. FILE – A policeman patrols alongside a steel wall at Evros River, near the village of Poros, at the Greek -Turkish border, Greece, May 21, 2021.The 2016 migrant deal struck between the European Union and Turkey has also made it much harder for migrants to make the journey. Visiting the border fence Saturday, Greek Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis defended the government’s measures.  “The Afghan crisis is creating new facts in the geopolitical sphere, and at the same time, is creating the possibilities for migrant flows. It is known that we as a European country participate in the institutions of the European Union, and within this framework a series of decisions are made. But we cannot wait passively for the possible impact,” Chrisochoidis told reporters. Helena Hahn, a migration analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center, said many Afghans will find it difficult to leave the country in the first place. “Deterrence measures, as well as containment measures by neighboring countries and potentially also the Taliban themselves as they continue to reveal their true agenda, will actually prevent people from leaving the country. Iran, for instance, has repeatedly closed border crossings and has suggested that refugee camps be set up within the country but not allowing people to cross the borders. Turkey has built a wall on its border to Iran and has also increased the capacity of its so-called repatriation centers,” Hahn told VOA. Despite the measures, hundreds of Afghans have managed to reach Turkey in recent weeks. Murtaza Faqiri, a 19-year-old Afghan migrant being held in a migrant detention center in the eastern city of Van, appealed to Europe for help. “I want to say that, to Europe and other countries, to help us. We are Afghan. We are not fighting. We want to have a good life,” Faqiri told The Associated Press. Turkey said it has halted repatriation flights to Afghanistan.  “We have never sent an immigrant to persecution or death, and we will not send them in this process, either,” Ramazan Secilmis, deputy director of Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management, told reporters Sunday. “We direct people in need of protection to their registered provinces (in Turkey) by receiving their protection applications. Then, within the framework of the resettlement program, we ensure that they are resettled to countries such as the European Union, America and Canada.” FILE – An Afghan migrant rests while waiting for transport by smugglers after crossing the Iran-Turkish border on August 15, 2021 in Tatvan, on the western shores of Lake Van, eastern Turkey.However, it is unclear how many refugees those countries will accept. Visiting a reception hub for Afghan refugees Sunday close to Madrid, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged member states to do more. “I … call on all states who have participated in the Afghanistan missions, Europeans and others, to provide sufficient resettlement quotas and secure pathways so that collectively we can accommodate those in need of protection,” von der Leyen told reporters. So far, most of the evacuees worked alongside Western forces in Afghanistan. Europe can do more, analyst Hahn said. “EU member states can voluntarily increase their resettlement pledges. Traditionally in the past couple of years, Syrians have been a major focus. But we may see that these geographic priorities change.” Meanwhile, Poland has said it will also build a fence along its border with Belarus, which has seen an influx of refugees, including Afghans, in recent weeks. Poland claims they are “economic migrants” and accuses Belarus of waging “hybrid warfare” by directing them toward the border. Human rights groups have accused Poland of violating the Geneva Convention by ignoring the migrants’ claims for asylum. 

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