Germany has committed to resettling up to 40,000 people desperate to be evacuated from Afghanistan, despite warnings about sparking another refugee crisis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany will help evacuate former local Afghan staff who have not been extricated in the past two weeks as the Taliban consolidated control over the country, and that the number of people is “between 10,000 and 40,000.”
Germany has already evacuated more than 5,000 people from Afghanistan, and most of them are Afghans. Ms. Merkel added that it is important to talk to the Taliban in order to get more Afghan citizens out of the country. She made the comments before meeting with Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz in Berlin. Austria has taken a firm position against accepting any Afghan refugees at all.
In 2015, Germany took in more than a million mostly Syrian refugees in a controversial move by Ms. Merkel, who is stepping down after almost 16 years as the country’s leader. With an election looming, the political debate in recent weeks has focused on avoiding a large-scale influx of refugees, this time from Afghanistan.
With the withdrawal of American troops and the Taliban back in power, thousands of Afghan refugees have headed to borders neighbouring the country in desperate attempts to flee. From Iran, they try to make the perilous journey to Turkey, the gateway to Europe. Analysts and human-rights advocates say that European Union member states should focus on creating resettlement policies that would help welcome Afghans to Europe.
Ms. Merkel has said that Western countries needed to provide aid to avoid a refugee crisis, saying the lack of assistance resulted in people fleeing the region for Europe. At the same time, Armin Laschet, a potential leadership successor from Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said there must be “no repeat” of the migration crisis of 2015.
But the Syrian refugee crisis and the situation unfolding in Afghanistan are not comparable, analysts have said. For one, many countries have closed their borders and most displaced people are stuck inside the country.
Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, said it is “an unfortunate statement because it suggests that something like 2015 today is a possibility and it simply isn’t.”
Mr. Knaus said since 2015, political leaders have tightened their borders, including in both Turkey and Greece. “So the 2015 argument is misleading; it also creates a sense of panic, which is dangerous,” he said.
Mr. Knaus said Ms. Merkel’s comments on resettling up to 40,000 people is encouraging, particularly because they came during the election campaign. Mr. Knaus said that all major parties, with the exception of the far-right, which is weaker in Germany than in neighbouring countries, are in favour of bringing at some least refugees in.
And he said he believes the rhetoric comparing the Afghan crisis to that of 2015 has not helped German politicians. “There is a far-right electorate that doesn’t want anyone to come, and for them 2015 was a weakness, but for the whole rest of the country, most Germans are actually quite proud of 2015,” he said.
Josephine Liebl, head of advocacy for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, said her organization of about 100 civil-society groups that work on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers is following how EU member states are responding to the crisis in Afghanistan.
She said the preoccupation of European leaders to suggest there must not be a repeat of 2015 is “misguided.”
“What we saw happen in 2015 was primarily a political crisis in terms of European governments not being able to agree amongst themselves on how they can organize and manage what was then and what will be now a measurable size of people seeking asylum in Europe,” she said.
A recent statement after the special council meeting of EU Home Affairs ministers, focusing on Afghanistan, is an illustration, she said, “of the position that EU and member states particularly collectively seem to be putting forward, and it really is a low point for access to asylum in Europe.”
The statement said the EU will bolster support for neighbouring countries that play host to migrants and refugees to reinforce their capacity and that “based on lessons learned, the EU and its member states stand determined to act jointly to prevent the recurrence of uncontrolled large-scale illegal migration movements faced in the past, by preparing a co-ordinated and orderly response.”
Ms. Liebl said EU members are suggesting that those fleeing Afghanistan are involved in illegal migration, and said the failure to recognize that they are refugees is “a new low point” in discussions on asylum.
“Right-wing discourse and ideas have captured the position of a large group of EU member states.”
She said the emphasis on supporting neighbouring countries needs to happen, but that European countries should ensure that Afghans can seek protection in Europe.
Hannes Schammann, professor of migration policy analysis at the University of Hildesheim and head of the Migration Policy Research Group, said he believes the language coming from Ms. Merkel’s party in recent weeks is an attempt to show that the government is in control of the situation.
He said Germany’s ability to resettle a million people was a success story, but some felt that the government had lost control over the borders.
“This is always something that undermines the legitimacy of any state if people think the government and state has lost the ability to control its borders.”
However, he said part of the legacy of 2015 was that people across the country came out in droves to help refugees, with municipalities and counties declaring themselves safe havens.
He said the debate this year has become much more polarized, and there’s a huge movement under way calling for more resettlement programs.
Wiebke Judith, a legal policy adviser on German and European asylum law at PRO ASYL, a Frankfurt-based advocacy organization that provides support to refugees and their families, said that since 2015 they have seen a negative shift in German politics on the refugee issue and the recent political remarks are just one example.
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