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EU countries vowed Tuesday to dole out an unspecified amount of funds to significantly beef up financial support for Afghanistan’s neighbors to manage the refugee crisis at their borders.
But they also pushed back discussions on the bloc’s own role in potentially accepting asylum seekers, citing fears of a “pull effect” that may draw more people.
At a meeting in Brussels, EU interior ministers adopted a text that pledges financial support to “relevant international organizations” and neighboring countries of Afghanistan “to reinforce their capacities to provide protection, dignified and safe reception conditions and sustainable livelihood for refugees.” The more than five-hour-long talks were nearly derailed when Luxembourg threatened to block a joint statement over complaints that it didn’t convey solidarity with Afghan refugees.
Neither EU ministers nor the European Commission could confirm exactly how much money they would offer to Afghanistan’s neighbors such as Pakistan and Iran, with a Commission spokesperson citing the “ongoing” nature of discussions. One EU official said, however, that the plan was to offer up to €1 billion to neighboring countries.
When asked about a report in the Financial Times that the figure could be around €600 million, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that “whether this will be enough … also depends whether the neighboring countries think that this is sufficient.”
The planned financial support reflects the EU’s broader goal of keeping Afghan migrants outside the bloc amid fears of another surge and the fractious internal disputes over the issue among member countries: “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 coordinated and orderly response,” the statement reads, adding that “incentives to illegal migration should be avoided.”
EU countries fear a repeat of the 2015-16 refugee crisis, which was largely due to the conflict in Syria, after the Taliban recently took control of Afghanistan within days, triggering an exodus of thousands of people to neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran.
The text by EU ministers also places a strong emphasis on “security,” stressing that “all efforts must be pursued to ensure that the Taliban regime ceases all ties and practices with international terrorism and that Afghanistan does not become once again a sanctuary for terrorists and organised crime groups.”
The clash between Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and his colleagues — namely from Germany, Austria and Slovenia — largely overshadowed other aspects of Tuesday’s talks. The debate centered on whether beyond vowing to prevent irregular migration, the EU should also make concrete pledges on resettlement that would allow Afghans in need to legally migrate to the bloc.
“The primary goal is to support people who are in mortal danger, who no longer live in freedom … It’s not to secure borders and to organize repatriation,” Asselborn said Tuesday morning as he threatened to block the statement if it was not amended.
“I criticize this in strongest terms. That’s not the attitude that the European Union should have today.”
The text did not change in the end, but two diplomats said Asselborn withdrew his veto after EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson confirmed she would convene an extraordinary meeting of the High Level Resettlement Forum next month to discuss potential resettlement for “those Afghans who are most vulnerable, particularly women, and children, but also human rights activists, journalists, lawyers.”
The High Level Resettlement Forum is an effort by the EU to relocate asylum seekers in need to safe countries, in cooperation with allies like the U.S. and Canada as well as the United Nations. The Commission has said it hopes that up to 30,000 people could be resettled to Europe under that program.
Germany’s Seehofer admitted Tuesday evening that the discussions among ministers had been “intensive,” but stressed that “most of all, the argument has prevailed that after the failure of the West in Afghanistan, it would send a devastating message if the EU was unable to act in a unified manner. This unity is now assured.”
Seehofer insisted that it had been right not to discuss any numbers for resettlement to the EU on Tuesday because such discussions could have risked triggering a so-called pull effect, encouraging more people to come, “and we don’t want that.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Seehofer said Germany would take in local forces who had supported German military or civil officials during their mission in Afghanistan, and added that “persons with particular need of protection” could also seek refuge in Germany.
On Monday, the German interior ministry said it expected “more than 40,000 people,” including the families of local forces, would be legally resettled to Germany.