BRUSSELS – Afghanistan is not a safe place to deport migrants to, but the European Union should try to assist displaced people inside the conflict-ravaged country or elsewhere in the region rather than wait until they arrive on Europe’s doorstep, the bloc’s top migration official said Wednesday.
“It’s not possible to send people back to Afghanistan in these days. It’s not safe,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said in a video statement.
But Johansson said that “it’s important that we can help these people in Afghanistan, when possible, to return to their homes. We also need to help neighboring countries and support Afghanis and these neighboring countries in the region.”
Speaking after a videoconference with EU interior ministers, she said that Europe “should not wait until people stand at our external border. We need to help them before that. It’s also important that we help those under immediate threat to be resettled to EU member states.”
Afghans are among the biggest group of people from a single country applying for international protection in Europe, after Syrians. According to some EU estimates, around 570,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in Europe since 2015.
Asylum applications by Afghan nationals climbed by a third since February as it became clear that the United States would pull troops out of Afghanistan. More than 4,648 applications were lodged in May, according to the EU’s asylum office. About half of the applications tend to be successful.
The arrival of well over a million migrants in 2015, mostly from Syria and Iraq, sparked one of the 27-nation EU’s biggest crises as nations bickered over how best to manage the influx. The infighting continues today, and a new wave of migrants from Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate tensions.
Austria’s interior minister called Wednesday for “deportation centers” to be built in countries neighboring Afghanistan.
“It is important to keep up the rule of law and credibility even in a crisis like Afghanistan is experiencing right now. And it should continue to be possible to especially deport violent asylum seekers,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said. “It must be our goal to keep the majority of the people in the region.”
The U.N.’s refugee agency has called for a moratorium on the forced return of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected. Neighboring countries are also likely to be overburdened.
The UNHCR said “it would not be appropriate to forcibly return nationals or former habitual residents of Afghanistan to countries in the region, in view of the fact that countries such as Iran and Pakistan have for decades generously hosted the vast majority of the total global number of Afghan refugees.”
AP writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.