European countries should screen Afghan refugees upon entry into the bloc to mitigate security risks, the EU’s top home affairs official said Thursday.
Europe “needs to make sure that we do not take in people that could pose a security threat towards the European Union,” said Ylva Johansson, the European Union’s home affairs commissioner in charge of migration and security issues.
“One person can be a security threat,” she said.
The commissioner was speaking to POLITICO just hours before explosions and gunshots outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport killed several U.S. military personnel and dozens of Afghans. Western security officials had warned repeatedly about the threat of terror attacks in Kabul in the past days.
But Johansson was not addressing the domestic terror threat within Afghanistan. Instead, her comments were focused on how the EU should manage security within its own borders as it prepares to process a heightened number of refugees from Afghanistan.
National border authorities, the EU commissioner said, should use “the right kind of scanning of people for security reasons.”
“We have the tools, but we need to make sure that all member states agree to use them in the same way,” she said, stressing that the EU should also step up its humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and its support to neighboring countries to receive Afghans that seek asylum.
The European Commission last year proposed mandatory screening and registration for anyone coming into Europe using a massive migration database called Eurodac, which contains fingerprints. It’s been heavily criticized by human rights groups for enabling mass surveillance of asylum seekers.
“We should avoid people turning up at our [external] borders. But it’s important that we have the screening and security, that we are prepared for that,” Johansson said.
European home affairs ministers will meet next Tuesday to coordinate responses to the crisis in Afghanistan. Countries are wrapping up their evacuation efforts in Kabul, with Belgium and Germany already having ceased flights and others like France expected to do so in the coming hours and days.
As the evacuation effort winds down, attention is shifting to Europe’s plans for handling Afghan refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing the country, fearing reprisals and repression under Taliban rule.
The EU is already facing a crisis at its eastern borders, with Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan migrants streaming in via Belarus. Officials have attributed the surge to a deliberate effort by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to pressure European leaders.
Lithuania this week said it would erect a 500-kilometer fence along its border with Belarus by next year, to deter and stop people from entering.
According to the EU commissioner, “member states are obliged to protect their external borders, and member states are best placed to decide how to do it. Of course they need to comply with fundamental rights … but sometimes they might need a fence.”
Johansson, a former Swedish minister and member of the Social Democrats, is headed to the U.S. on Friday to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan with U.S. counterparts.
She’ll also discuss recent moves by U.S. tech giant Apple to surveil phones for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and the rising threat of ransomware that’s hit European and U.S. hospitals, utility companies, retailers and schools.
The top EU official is having dinner with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday. She’ll also meet with the U.N.’s Secretary-General António Guterres and its chief counter-terrorism official Vladimir Voronkov on her trip.