How the EU is trying to prevent Afghan refugees from knocking on its door

UN predicts 500 thousand extra refugees. As the EU attempts to keep them away, Central Asian governments are busy negotiating deals.

UNHCR predicts that the current crisis in Afghanistan will generate an extra flow of refugees that reaching half a million people, and has requested over $230 million to provide humanitarian assistance to these families. But European donors have attached strong conditions to their aid: Support won’t be forthcoming without a guarantee that the Afghan refugees will be resettled in the region. Western Europe is adamant, and determined not to see a repetition of the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis—Berlin, in particular, is working hard at finding an alternative to Angela Merkel’s 2015 “Wir Schaffen Das” (We can do it) policy

European governments have dispatched delegations to Pakistan, Iran, and other countries in the region, to assure them that the EU stands ready to assist them. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has promised economic and humanitarian aid to countries sharing land borders with Afghanistan to deal with the fallout of the new crisis. “Germany stands ready to support the neighboring countries of Afghanistan,” he recently said in Islamabad. “Germany will not abandon them.”

Berlin offered 100 million euros in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan and another 500 million euros have also been pledged for various projects in neighboring countries. They will include projects such as border management and prevention of extremism: “It is in our own interest to prevent the collapse in Afghanistan from destabilizing the entire region,” Maas said.

Some Central Asian governments, meanwhile, are sending mixed signals about their willingness to accept more refugees. It is not entirely clear if they are only concerned about an additional influx of refugees or if they are hoping to increase the level of assistance promised by the EU, but UN sources tell The G|O that they interpret these apparently contradictory messages as a willingness to negotiate.

The Pakistani government, for instance, despite public insistence that it will not accept more refugees, has not prevented the creation of temporary camps near its border with Afghanistan. The same hard position was expressed by Iran. Together, both countries currently play host to 90% of the 2,5 million Afghan refugees globally.

The other question is, of course, how to prevent a further exodus of Afghan refugees, with the country now under Taliban rule. The Biden administration and other G7 members have explicitly hinted at the possible use of funding as a means to put pressure on the new regime. As The G|O has reported, humanitarian aid to the country has severely dwindled over the last few years, leading some senior UNHCR people to claim this had contributed to the Taliban’s ability to reclaim power so rapidly. The new rulers must now be judged on their actions, and economically strangling the new regime may deny Afghans the chance to survive and shape the future of their country—whilst also increasing China’s influence in the region.