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Vulcan Insight | EU looks to engage with Taliban to avoid “migratory disaster”

The EU will engage in dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan to prevent a “humanitarian and potential migratory disaster”, High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, said on Tuesday (17 August) after an emergency video conference of EU foreign ministers. Borrell also said any dialogue would focus on preventing Afghanistan from becoming a hub for foreign terrorists. In the meantime, the priority remains the safe evacuation of EU citizens and local assistants.

Borrell ranked the fall of Kabul to the Taliban as the most important geopolitical event since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, saying that “it will have an impact on the geopolitical balance of the world.”

Regarding potential talks with the Taliban, Commissioner Borrell acknowledged that the Taliban “have won the war,” adding that, if the evacuation of citizens and aid workers were to be achieved, it would still be necessary to talk to the radical Islamists. Humanitarian aid will continue to be paid, while all other EU money will be frozen. When asked whether he believes the Taliban have changed since the late 1990s, he responded, “only time will tell. They still look the same.”

However, according to a joint statement, the EU is only prepared to engage in dialogue if there is a peaceful transfer of power and the Islamists respect the fundamental rights of all people in Afghanistan, especially the rights of women, children and minorities.

The EU also wants to support Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries in creating reception camps and job opportunities. “Pakistan, Iran and Turkey will be crucial for us,” Borrell said. Even with Russia and China, the EU wants to work more closely to prevent an exodus from Afghanistan.

The EU interior ministers met on Wednesday to address the potential migrant crisis in Afghanistan. Even though the concrete consequences can only be speculated about so far, many experts assume that the situation in Afghanistan could lead to new migratory movements towards Europe with primary repercussions for countries such as Italy, Greece or Malta, and reignite the long-running dispute over the redistribution of migrants within the EU. So far, interior ministers have agreed that only Afghans who are acutely threatened, such as aid workers, can be admitted quickly.

But trenches quickly opened up between Member States on the overall migration policy with countries like Luxembourg wanting quotas for Afghan refugees to come to Europe legally, and advocated for a strong EU signal towards the Afghan people. In contrast, countries like Austria or Greece are strictly opposed to welcoming any further Afghan refugees. Overall, the EU countries are divided and act according to domestic political interests.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has called on Member States to quickly evacuate endangered Afghans. People who are “under imminent threat after the Taliban takeover should be resettled in EU Member States”, said Interior Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, on Wednesday after talking to interior ministers.  She cited human rights activists as an example, saying that “we should not wait until people are at our external border. We have to help them before then.”

The Commissioner vehemently rejected deportations of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan, stressing that the country is “not safe”.

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.