Updated: Aug 21, 2021
by Helen Barber
Last week, France and Switzerland joined Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands in the decision to suspend all deportations to Afghanistan, recognizing the country’s deteriorating security situation as the Taliban pressed on with its assault amid the withdrawal of foreign troops, which then resulted in the Talibans seizing Kabul.
Many organizations, such as Amnesty International, have stressed the need for the EU to take its responsibilities. In particular, those who have worked for Western powers, e.g. civil servants and translators, but also human and women’s rights defender, artists and media workers, who can become an easy target of the Talibans’ regime, are in need of protection.
Nevertheless, it appears some contradictory statements have arisen from Greece concerning refugees from Afghanistan.
Whilst Greece is one of 65 other countries who have signed a letter demanding that Afghans and international citizens are given a ‘safe passage’ out of Afghanistan, asking for roads, airports, and border crossing to remain open, the Greek Minister of Migration, Notis Mitirachi, has nonetheless stated that the country will not become a “gateway” to the European Union for refugees fleeing the Taliban.
On the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, when over 850,000 people arrived on Greece’s islands from Turkey, the country is now concerned that the growing crisis in Afghanistan could inevitably result in a repeat of that emergency, which would thereby lead to an increase in migrant flows.
"Let me be clear that our country will not be a gateway for a new wave of refugees [from Afghanistan]...We're fully prepared to protect our borders...We never again want to see the scenes we lived through in 2015”, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Tuesday (17/08).
"We cannot have millions of people leaving Afghanistan and coming to the European Union ... and certainly not through Greece," he said. Mitarachi added that Greece would continue to closely examine the sea and land borders with Turkey.
The minister has called for a unified response between EU member states to the escalating crisis in Afghanistan, with the aim being to prevent Greece from becoming the entry-point into Europe for people seeking asylum. Athens has also pushed for the EU home affairs ministers to raise the matter tomorrow at a summit amid growing concerns that a new migrant crisis may be unfolding.
In view of the developments in Afghanistan, Hungary, too, stated that it will not allow an ‘unrestricted’ flow of refugees from Afghanistan. On Monday (16/21), Levente Magyar, a state secretary with Hungary's Foreign Ministry, told public media that, as a result of the withdrawal of international forces led by the US from the country, a “complete military and political collapse” is now ensuing in Afghanistan. Speaking to MTI, Mr Magyar said that Hungary would not be accepting refugees "without any kind of restrictions."
On the same day, a similar statement was pronounced by the French President Emmanuel Macron, who stated “We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows”
In truth though, following the 2016 EU-Turkey Deal, there was actually a decrease in the number of Afghan migrants; however, Turkish President Erdogan vowed to shut its border with Iran to irregular migrants, making it even harder for Afghan refugees to make the journey to Europe.
Amnesty International has urged foreign governments to “take every necessary measure”, and for “swift and decisive action from the international community”, to ensure that a safe passage out of Afghanistan is possible for all those wishing to flee.
Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “What we are witnessing in Afghanistan is a tragedy that should have been foreseen and averted. It will only be compounded further without swift and decisive action from the international community. Thousands of Afghans at serious risk of Taliban reprisals – from academics and journalists to civil society activists and women human rights defenders – are in danger of being abandoned to a deeply uncertain future”.
This has already proven to be paramount, as in the past days thousands of desperate Afghan citizens swarmed Kabul’s international airport in an attempt to catch last flights out of the city to flee the regime.
We at Europe Must Act challenge this pledge to stem an influx of refugees from entering Greece as a clear violation of the fundamental right to asylum. We consider this decision taken by Greece and Hungary as one which puts the lives of vulnerable people in danger by refusing to accept refugees fleeing the escalating conflict in their homeland. As one of the countries to have signed the letter demanding a safe passage out of Afghanistan, we urge Greece not to renege on its word given as one of the signatories.
We push for the EU to allow and implement safe passages for refugees, and for EU decision-makers to commit to implementing a human-rights based migration and refugee policy. We have a moral obligation to act and to ensure that those wishing to depart are allowed to and have the means to do so safely. We join Amnesty International in its calls for a safe passage out of Afghanistan for those who are at risk of persecution from the Taliban.
We stand with refugees and international citizens who are fleeing the Taliban, and we continue to campaign for the humane, dignified and legal reception of refugees in Europe.