Development ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday (12 May) may discuss a controversial proposal to repatriate some 80,000 Afghans to their homeland, it emerged Tuesday (10 May).
The scheme – first disclosed by euractiv.com last month – came in the form of a secret Commission proposal to declare the Hindu Kush a “safe region”, and thus return tens of thousands of Afghans in order to deter further migration flows from the war-torn state.
On Thursday, Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Ahmad Hakimi will join development ministers and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini for lunch, as part of the day’s agenda discussing Afghanistan, migration and development.
A senior EU official told euractiv.com that the issue of return of Afghan refugees to Hindu Kush “may be raised – one way of the other” over the lunch.
In 2015, 213,000 Afghans came to Europe, mostly to Germany and Sweden. After Syrians, they constitute the biggest group of refugees on the continent.
On 13 April, EURACTIV revealed a classified paper send by the Commission to EU member state ambassadors, outlining a scenario in which the 80,000 Afghans could be sent to Hindu Kush “in the near future”.
The executive also indicated that it believes the “risk of further migration flows” from Afghanistan to be “high”. The EU should quickly “intervene” and utilise the “asylum capacity of the region”, according to the paper.
But an EU spokesperson insisted to euractiv.com, “There is no EU proposal to declare Hindu Kush a safe zone.”
“Over working lunch, the EU development ministers will be joined by Afghan Minister for Finance, Eklil Ahmad Hakimi. They will discuss the state of play of the preparation of the ministerial conference on Afghanistan on 4/5 October in Brussels and have an exchange of views on the progress made on the reforms by the Afghan government,” the spokesperson added.
On the possibility of ‘secret plan’ being discussed by development ministers, the spokesperson said, “The issue of migration might or might not come up in the debate.”
The discussion comes ahead of a conference in Brussels in October of ministers on Afghanistan, looking at progress made by the government in Kabul. That will be attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, European Council President Donald Tusk and Mogherini.
Another controversial item which is likely to be discussed at the Thursday session of the FAC is Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for “migration bonds” with African countries, to stem migration flows from the continent – many of whom first arrive in Italy.
Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected the idea of using Eurobonds to finance any such scheme, it has received a muted welcome by the Commission.
The EU diplomat said, “We have all read Renzi’s letter [outlining the plan]. [Commission President] Jean-Claude Juncker gave it a positive welcome last week – it is very close to what we are already doing.
“The eurobonds are ‘new’ – we have to examine what it would be. [But] many aspects converge with what we are already doing.”
The Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (ETF) was launched last November at the Valletta summit on migration, looking at ways of reducing the root causes of migration from African states. Some 750m of the 1.8bn euros need has already been pledged.
Another aspect of Thursday’s FAC is preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul at the end of May. That has been hit by the announcement by Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) that it is pulling out of the event, in protest after some 75 hospitals managed or supported by the MSF have been bombed in the past year.
The senior EU official said that they “haven’t had confirmation” of MSF’s position, but that the WHS was a “multi-stakeholder event” whose “objectives were so very important”.
The rest of the agenda looks at ways of implementing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, including the role of the private sector, so-called “blending” of finance to pump prime private sector investment with official development aid and better coordination of aid between member states and the executive.
The EU is the world’s leading aid donor, reaching 68 billion euros in 2015, a 15% increase on 2014.