How worried is Germany about Afghan refugees?

Several leading politicians of the conservative CDU/CSU Union - including CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak, CSU leader Alexander Dobrindt and the Union's top candidate for the September elections, Armin Laschet - have warned against repeating the "mistakes of 2015". EPA-EFE/AKHTER GULFAM [EPA/AKHTER GULFAM]

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is raising fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis in Germany as the country presses ahead with the evacuations of vulnerable Afghans and local staff. But according to academics and civil society, such fears are unwarranted. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“We are continuing to make every effort to help Afghans leave the country, especially those who have stood by Germany as local forces and who have worked for a safe, free country with prospects for the future,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her government statement on Wednesday (25 August).

So far, the German government has flown more than 4,600 people out of the country.

The day before, UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet warned of the Taliban now resorting to the mass execution of civilians.

Germany is taking in local staff based in Afghanistan but also people deemed to be in need of special protection.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer agreed with the federal states on this last week, stressing that there should be no cap for these persons in need of protection. Germany is “morally obliged” to do so, Seehofer added.

People in need of special protection are a narrowly defined group that is considered particularly threatened, for example, because of their commitment to human rights, the interior ministry told EURACTIV.

This means that a large proportion of potentially persecuted persons are thus still excluded from the reception programme.

“The EU and Germany now have a clear responsibility to evacuate by all means those at risk of being targeted by the Taliban,” Franziska Vilmar of Amnesty International told EURACTIV.

What is needed are “safe and legal channels for refugees from Afghanistan, such as resettlement programmes, family reunification or the granting of humanitarian visas,” Vilmar added.

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The spectre of 2015

Germany’s caution also partly stems from the fear of seeing a repeat of the massive 2015 refugee crisis.

Several leading politicians of the conservative CDU/CSU Union – including CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak, CSU leader Alexander Dobrindt and the Union’s top candidate for the September elections, Armin Laschet – have warned against repeating the “mistakes of 2015”, when Merkel launched her open-door policy for refugees.

Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU leader Markus Söder spoke to the Bild newspaper of the possibility of a new “wave of refugees” and stressed that Germany should not experience a “second situation like in 2015”.

However, as Amnesty’s Franziska Vilmar pointed out, the situation today is entirely different. “The situation back then cannot be repeated, because since 2015, the borders in the Balkans have been massively closed,” Vilmar explained, referring to the so-called Balkan route that most refugees took to get to Western Europe.

Migration researcher Sabrina Zajak from the German Centre for Integration and Migration Studies (DeZIM) also believes that the comparison is misleading, as the “situation today is completely different from what it was in 2015”.

Zajak told EURACTIV that Germany is now much better prepared to receive refugees – both at the level of civil society and in terms of improved accommodation capacities and integration measures.

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Integration fears

Integration of the Afghans who have landed on German soil is already on the political agenda, only weeks before Germany’s parliamentary election on 26 September.

Integration Minister Annette Widmann-Mauz told EURACTIV that it is now important that “those who come to Germany quickly gain access to integration offers and to existing support structures for refugees in the municipalities.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, for his part, has refused to accept Afghan refugees, citing what he called their “particularly difficult integration”.

But, according to the statistics, the alleged difficulties Afghans face when integrating into society are largely made up. Afghans actually have a particularly high success rate on the labour market, the migration monitor of Germany’s employment agency has found.

However, some mistakes were made in Germany in the past, particularly regarding the integration measures for Afghan refugees.

“For years, German integration policy has put Afghan refugees at a disadvantage in their access to integration support measures, because, as a group, they have not had a so-called ‘good perspective to stay’ in recent years,” migration researcher Ramona Rischke from the German Centre for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM) told EURACTIV.

Many of the support programmes for integration are linked to the refugees’ “good prospects of staying”, which is only issued if their protection rate is above 50%. However, only the first-instance procedure is used to determine the protection quota, which is why Afghan refugees are certified as having “low prospects of remaining”.

However, the actual protection rate of Afghans is much higher because many of those affected first have to go to court to assert their right to asylum. Ultimately, the court decides in favour of Afghan asylum seekers in three of four cases.

“This deplorable state of affairs must be eliminated in order to give the Afghan community more opportunities for successful integration,” stressed Amnesty’s Vilmar.

On top of that, the asylum procedures of Afghan refugees take a comparatively long time, which not only impairs “human capital development and social participation” but also leads to a deterioration of existing job-relevant skills through “non-activation,” Rischke warned.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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