Commission defends plan to deport Afghans to ‘safe’ regions

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EXCLUSIVE / The European Commission has confirmed the existence of a plan that would see 80,000 Afghans deported back to their homeland and stressed that it is still in line with the spirit of European migration policy. EURACTIV Germany reports.

For months, Ankara has been under constant criticism because of its approach to refugee policy. Human rights organisations have claimed that Turkish authorities have approved deportations to countries such as Syria or Afghanistan, where refugees are in genuine risk of harm or even death.

But Turkey is by no means alone, given the revelation of a secret Commission document leaked last month by Statewatch. The strategy paper showed that Europeans are also planning to allow mass deportations back to Afghanistan.

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The EU-Turkey refugee deal has come in for sharp criticism already and now Amnesty International has accused Turkish authorities of flouting international asylum law by forcibly repatriating Afghans. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In the “secret” classified “non-paper”, which was sent on 3 March to EU member state ambassadors, the Commission outlined a scenario in which 80,000 Afghans could “in the near future” be sent back to the Hindu Kush. 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.

In other words, in order to tackle the number of refugees coming out of Afghanistan, certain regions of the country should be marked as “safe”.

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.

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Thousands of refugees were left stranded in Greece yesterday (22 February) after Macedonia abruptly closed it border to Afghans, creating a fresh bottleneck as European countries scramble to respond to the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The European Commission’s plan comes at a time when the security situation in the Hindu Kush is rapidly deteriorating. Suicide bombings and other attacks on civil and governmental buildings accounted for 11,000 deaths last year alone. Numerous international observers have confirmed that the region is struggling to hold itself together following the withdrawal of troops.

In January, NATO said that a large part of the Afghan army is “not ready” and unprepared to fight the Taleban and other insurgents. A shocking revelation, reported on by German newspaper Spiegel, showed that the Taleban now controls a larger part of the country than it did prior to the NATO mission was launched in 2001. The risk of injury or death is high or extreme in every other Afghan district, with the threat rising in areas that were previously deemed to be safe.

Yet despite these factors, the Executive seems set to press ahead with its plan to send people back to a country in turmoil. Essentially, their argument is that just because the overall security situation of the country is deteriorating, does not mean that it is the same in individual regions. The executive is currently assessing internally which regions could indeed be marked as safe.

The European Commission has also invoked the letter of law in its argument. A spokesperson told that rejected asylum seekers are not entitled to “international protection”. The deportation of irregular refugees, whose asylum applications have been rejected, is also a crucial element of European migration policy.

The Commission also indicated in its paper that the Afghan government, particularly the inner circle of the country’s president Ashraf Ghani, are open to a return of refugees. However, there is opposition in Kabul, particularly from Minister for Refugees Said Hussein Alimi Balkhi, who is himself a member of the Hazara ethnic minority, which has been particularly persecuted by the Taleban. Balkhi has publicly said that he would only class three of the 34 provinces as safe.

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The German government has agreed upon a faster deportation system, using military support, for refugees whose asylum requests are rejected. EURACTIV Germany reports.

To counter the plan’s detractors, Brussels outlined certain incentives in its paper, including privileges from the educated and upper class elite, student exchange programmes and research visits for university employees. It also allegedly indicated that it would put pressure on the government or that development aid could dry up if Ghani’s government does not agree to the plan. The EU has already earmarked some €1.4 billion for Kabul for the 2014-2020 period.

However, the executive moved to dispel the notion that this aid would be dependent on progress on the refugee issue and a spokesperson from the institution, speaking anonymously, told that future funding would not be “conditional” on Kabul’s approach to a repatriation agreement.

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