“No one can predict what will happen in Afghanistan,” and “the best way to prevent a migration crisis is to prevent a humanitarian crisis,” said the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Ylva Johansson after yet another European summit on the Afghan crisis that ended on Tuesday, as she tried to cover up in the soft language of diplomacy a renewed refusal by Europe to accept refugees from Afghanistan.
This time, the meeting, convened by the Slovenian Presidency, was attended by the Ministers of the Interior. There were more than five hours of “lively” debate, as the Slovenian minister Aleš Hojs called it, only to reach the same conclusions already outlined in recent days by EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Joseph Borrell: namely, that the EU must offer economic assistance to Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan, the countries bordering Afghanistan, so they would organize the reception of refugees, thus avoiding that a flow of men, women and children fleeing the new Taliban regime might reach the borders of Europe.
And while the European Commissioner put this in a polite way, there were also those like Denmark, Austria and the Czech Republic (hardliners also include Germany, Hungary, Poland, Estonia and Latvia) who put it in starker terms: “The most important thing now is to send the right message to the region: ‘Stay there, and we’ll support the region to help the people there,’” said Austrian interior minister Karl Nehammer.
Thus, there will be no “open doors” like in 2015. Indeed, the specter of what happened six years ago with the Syrian crisis is still worrying European leaders to such an extent that it is being invoked at every turn: “Everybody would like to avoid a situation like we had in 2015,” Johansson reiterated, “and we can avoid it, we are much better prepared, and we can reach out to do things already now.”
Humanitarian corridors, which have been discussed in recent weeks, were not even mentioned on Tuesday—in part because a decision in this sense has to be taken by the heads of state and government, not by the Interior Ministers, but most importantly because no one has any intention of actually organizing them.
At least, not for everyone. In the statement adopted, the ministers reiterate that the EU intends to continue the evacuation of “Afghan nationals who have cooperated with the EU and its Member States and their families.” Johansson added that “sustainable solutions” will be sought for “those Afghans who are most vulnerable, particularly women and children, but also human rights activists, journalists, lawyers.”
The issue will be discussed in the coming weeks at a Resettlement Forum where the issue of how many refugees the EU is ready to take in will be decided. On this issue as well, the ministers in Brussels preferred to remain vague and avoid offering any numbers regarding possible quotas to be allocated to each country: “I don’t think it’s wise if we talk about numbers here, because numbers obviously trigger a pull-effect and we don’t want that,” said German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
Only Luxembourg and Finland insisted that the final statement of the summit should leave the possibility open for a reception with a wider scope, but this is only a relative success: even if Europe were to approve such resettlements, these would once again be approved by individual countries on a voluntary basis only.
Tuesday’s summit was also an opportunity for Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese to recall that the Afghan emergency is not the only one that Europe has to reckon with. After emphasizing that Italy is the EU country that has received the largest number of Afghans, the Interior Minister called for maintaining a high level of attention toward other routes, especially through the Mediterranean, from which new refugees could arrive in the future, including from Afghanistan. For this reason, she once again called for a revision of the Dublin regulation and the adoption of a mechanism that would provide for the relocation in Europe of those who land on Italian shores.
Furthermore, Lamorgese also called for the commitments made with Africa not to be forgotten, particularly the promise of investments to help the economies of Libya, Tunisia and the Sahel.
The Afghan crisis will also be on the agenda in the meeting Lamorgese will hold on Thursday evening with French President Emmanuel Macron in Marseille.
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