Next Refugee Crisis Looming? — Taliban Advances and Fleeing Afghans Send Jitters Across Europe

Written by | Thursday, August 12th, 2021

In a U-turn, Germany and the Netherlands announced on Wednesday (12 August) that they were suspending deportations of Afghan migrants as Taliban insurgents continue to make massive territorial gains in the war-torn country, capturing five out of the country’s 34 provincial capitals in less than a week. The move comes just hours after the two countries, along with Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Greece, had warned the EU Commission against halting forced deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving to the bloc, despite major advances of Taliban insurgents in the country. Their letter to the EU executive claimed that halting returns “sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU.” Since the start of 2021, 1,200 people have been returned from the European Union to Afghanistan, according to EU officials.
Afghanistan urged the EU last month to cease forced deportations of Afghan migrants for three months as security forces battle the Taliban offensive ahead of the full US military pullout from Afghanistan on 31 August. Their letter asked the European Commission “to engage in an intensified dialogue with Afghan partners on all pressing migration issues including swift and effective return cooperation”. The letter also reportedly argued that “stopping returns sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU.” In what was seen as a surprise move to many, Dutch Justice and Security Minister Ankie Broekers-Knol said in a letter to the Dutch parliament (12 August) that “the situation in Afghanistan is likely to change and events for the coming period are so uncertain that I have decided to introduce a moratorium on deportation decisions and departures,” adding that “the moratorium on decisions and departures applies for a period of six months and applies to foreign nationals of Afghan nationality.” The German Interior Ministry, on its part, also announced the suspension on Twitter “due to the evolution of the security situation” in Afghanistan.
On the same day (12 August), Afghan officials said the Taliban captured three more provincial capitals, with some two-thirds of the country’s territory now under their control. The insurgents’ gains come as the US and NATO prepare to withdraw their troops at the end of the month after a decades-long war. With Taliban insurgents now controlling 65% of the country, as US President Joe Biden urged the nation’s leaders to fight for their homeland. “Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden told reporters at the White House, saying the Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and must want to fight. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.” But, meanwhile, as more and more Afghans try to seek shelter from conflict and violence, many European leaders are concerned about a possible increase of migrant numbers on the continent.
Still scarred by the migration crisis of 2015-16, which saw hundreds of thousands of arrivals from Syria, the EU is still reeling from the intense disputes within the 27-nation bloc on sharing the migrant burden among themselves, with populist parties in some parts of Europe surfing on anti-immigration sentiment.

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