Thursday, December 9

European leaders are exploiting unfounded fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis | Mujtaba Rahman


TOAs the aftermath of Afghanistan continues, EU leaders are freaking out over the risk of a repeat of the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. At a press conference in Berlin on Monday, Armin Laschet, the likely successor to Angela Merkel argued: “We must not send the signal that Germany can welcome all those in need. The focus must be on humanitarian aid in situ, unlike in 2015 ”. Although French President Emmanuel Macron recognized Europe’s duty to welcome some of the “rights defenders, artists, journalists and activists who are now under threat,” he came with an important caveat. “Europe cannot face the consequences of the current situation alone. We must anticipate and protect ourselves against considerable flows of irregular migration, “he said at a press conference.

Their concerns obscure the reality that the EU and its member states have been taking hard-line measures to reduce irregular migration for years. This will avoid a repeat of 2015, when more than 1.2 million refugees sought asylum within the EU (0.16% of Europe’s total population), sparking political opposition based on the alleged threat posed by these people. for the EU.

The situation is very different now. The EU-Turkey migration agreement, which came into force in 2016, has significantly reduced arrivals, and the number of first-time asylum seekers in the EU fell to 631,300 in 2019, almost half of what it was four years ago. before. The EU border and coast guard agency has also been strengthened. Previously it relied on voluntary contributions from EU capitals and had neither its own operational staff nor the ability to conduct search and rescue operations. It now has a permanent corps equipped with ships and vehicles, and negotiates with third countries.

Several of the The “frontline” states most exposed to refugees have also adopted extremely tough migration policies. Greece, for example, since the beginning of 2020 has been aggressively rejecting migrants to prevent their arrival on its Aegean islands and avoid the processing of asylum applications. Unlike the previous refugee crisis, the EU will not be divided between hardliners and “open doors” advocates. Most EU members will only welcome a limited number of Afghan personnel who worked in bloc or individual country diplomatic missions, as well as segments of the population at high risk of persecution by the Taliban, such as women, girls, LGBTQ people, artists. , journalists and rights activists. There will be no return to the Merkel-Sweden approach in 2015, which critics attacked as an “open door.”

Furthermore, the key transit route for Afghan refugees to Europe, via Iran and then Turkey, will now be more difficult to complete. By the end of 2020, Iran proposed new legislation targeting Afghans that would make undocumented migrants subject to prison terms of up to 25 years. The next few weeks could see hundreds of thousands of Afghans crossing into Iran.

In Turkey, growing anti-refugee sentiment will also pressure President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take a tougher stance. In 2019, the Turkish authorities detained 455,000 irregular migrants, according to the General Directorate of Migration Management of the Interior Ministry, and the possibility of more refugees comes at a bad time for Erdogan. Your government is already under pressure from mismanagement of wildfires, floods and a sinking economy. A Metropoll poll from July showed 67% opposition to the opening of borders to Afghan refugees, including more than half of the voters of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It is for these reasons that Ankara aims build a wall along almost half of Turkey’s 500 km border with Iran, digging trenches, laying barbed wire and reinforcing patrols to avoid crossings. Turkish security forces have also increased their presence on the Iranian border.

So unlike 2015, when Ankara implemented an “open arms” policy towards fleeing Syrians, Turkey and the EU are now aligned in their determination to prevent further migration. This will allow for diplomatic, security and financial cooperation that did not exist at the time.

Early signs from Brussels and EU capitals suggest the bloc will cooperate closely to stop irregular migration, with its partners, led by Turkey, trying to retain Afghan refugees. in the region, mainly around Pakistan, Iran or any Central Asian country wishing to host or provide cross-border assistance to refugees. Brussels will also seek to stimulate an international response, led by UNHCR and accompanied by the United States and other Western allies.

The situation in Afghanistan is unprecedented and the potential for the movement of many people across borders, which EU leaders clearly find so problematic, will continue to exist. Much will depend on the nature of the Taliban regime. But pressure from Afghan refugees is unlikely to systematically challenge the EU or its member states. EU leaders fail to recognize the defenses they have, driven instead by domestic political considerations: be it elections in Germany and France, or an attempt to prevent populists, who have largely failed to capitalize on the pandemic, gain ground.


www.theguardian.com

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