Austria banks on Central Asia to limit refugee flow from Afghanistan

Austria's interior minister Nehammer criticised Johansson, who did not attend the conference due to time constraints, for not focusing enough on stabilising the region surrounding Afghanistan. [European Union/European Council]

Austria’s interior and foreign ministry hosted a security conference with the Central Asian states Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan together with the migration ministers of Greece and Denmark, as well as the German interior secretary on Monday to discuss the further strategy in Afghanistan, effectively asking its neighbouring countries to manage migrations flows and prevent a potential migration crisis.

“There is a common European interest to fight illegal migration,” Austria’s interior minister, Karl Nehammer told reporters in Vienna, adding that it is “necessary and important” that the EU signals its partners in Central Asia that we “are seriously willing to cooperate with them” in order to stabilise the region.

The security conference is pursuing the goal of getting a picture of the current situation in the Central Asian countries neighbouring Afghanistan, and to assess pathways to assist them in border protection, the fight against organised crime and terrorism in order to prevent “migration flows” to Europe and to “help on-site”, Nehammer said.

“It is necessary now, not only to speak about prevention but to let words be followed by actions,” he added.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg added that the crisis in Afghanistan has the potential to “suck the whole region into vortices” and that Europe has to do anything in its power to prevent Afghanistan from becoming “a black hole of international security.”

The Austrian push comes after German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited the region.

EU interior ministers are set to meet on Tuesday for an emergency meeting on the issue, but unlikely to agree on how many refugees the bloc itself might accept and according to diplomats will lay more emphasis on security instead.

Austria ignores Biden’s call, EU commissioner declines invite

Austria was only one of three EU countries that refrained from following the Biden administration’s plea to call on the Taliban to allow Afghans to exit the country after the completion of the international troop withdrawal on Tuesday due to fears over a spike in migration.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson was invited, but cancelled due to scheduling reasons.

Nehammer criticised Johansson, who did not attend the conference due to time constraints, for not focusing enough on stabilising the region surrounding Afghanistan.

“She is currently focusing on criticising EU external border countries like Greece for their handling of border protection, instead of concentrating on stabilising the region and to help on-site,” Nehammer criticised.

When asked about the idea of ​​setting up deportation centres in Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, Nehammer said this was a secondary issue that was still important, but was not an Austrian issue, it was an EU-wide issue.

It is in the pan-European interest to take action against organised crime and smuggling because this and terrorism are mutually dependent, Nehammer said, adding that currently, however, the priority is on-site help and the implementation of confidence building measures.

However, Austria is currently also at the centre of criticism itself over its harsh stance on Afghan refugees. Italian Regions Minister Maria Stella Gelmini criticised Vienna on Sunday for its unwillingness to admit Afghan refugees, adding that “without European solidarity, there is no future.”

Borrell calls for international support

The EU should provide financial support to countries neighbouring Afghanistan to help them manage refugees fleeing the Taliban, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said in an interview published Monday.

“We will have to increase cooperation with the neighbouring countries to resolve issues related to Afghanistan. We must help them with the first refugee wave,” Josep Borrell told Italy’s Corriere Della Sera.

“Afghans fleeing the country are not going to reach Rome in the first place, but maybe Tashkent (in Uzbekistan). We need to help those countries that will be on the front line.”

(Oliver Noyan | EURACTIV.de, Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)

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