Are the Afghans going to flee their country?


► Should we expect a migratory exodus?

In his speech on Monday evening August 16, President Emmanuel Macron brandished the threat of “Significant irregular migratory flows” come from Afghanistan against whom France will have to ” protect “. “For the moment, the Afghans are locked in a cage, they cannot reach Europe because they have no means of exit”, sharply slices the co-founder of the Samuel-Hall research center in Kabul, Nassim Majidi.

It is difficult for the moment to assess the importance of a possible resumption of migratory flows from Afghanistan. Since the Taliban seized power on August 15, only Kabul airport remains as the only escape route. And yet it only concerns a wealthy minority of Afghans with visas. The less fortunate fled, when they could, by land, to Pakistan or Iran. According to Nassim Majidi, 40,000 Afghans left their country every week thanks to the advance of the Taliban in the country.

At the end of 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted nearly 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and 780,000 in Iran, some of them long-standing. The arrival of the Taliban precipitated their exodus to the point that Iran announced on Sunday August 15 the construction of camps in three provinces to accommodate the refugees while “The situation is improving in Afghanistan”.

“Obviously, control at the Iranian border will be flexible”, says researcher Farid Vahid, a Middle East specialist at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. “Iranian public opinion is in favor of helping Afghan refugees. Twenty years ago, those who fled the Taliban mostly stayed in Iran. But today the situation is different. Iran is not economically prosperous, and if they cannot find work, the Afghans will surely be pressured to leave the country for Turkey. “

Ankara had already prepared for such an eventuality and began building a 295-kilometer-long wall on its border with Iran to stop the flow of refugees. The country now hosts 4 million, including 3.6 million Syrians. Afghans are the second most represented nationality.

► What response can France provide to the possible arrival of Afghans?

First, there is what is absolutely urgent. Emmanuel Macron is committed to ” put in safety “ the Afghans who worked for the French army. Nearly 800 people have already been evacuated in this capacity. In addition, nearly 600 Afghan employees of French structures were also taken care of with their families. Finally, France should also grant a visa to “Rights defenders, artists, journalists, activists (…) threatened because of their engagement “, Emmanuel Macron promised.

But, according to the deputy LR Aurélien Pradié, president of the France-Afghanistan friendship group, “There are still 80 to 100 Afghan army collaborators who helped us but of whom we have less evidence.” “NGO staff are also in the sights, he adds, and we find it even more difficult to identify them. “

“Threatened Afghans will still need protection in the months and years to come. There is a French position in favor of human rights to be assumed over time ”, says Jean-François Ploquin, director general of the refugee defense association Forum Réfugiés-Cosi. While Emmanuel Macron has indicated his intention to “Protect us against significant irregular migratory flows”, Jean-François Ploquin recommends ensuring legal migration routes through “Visas given in consulates in neighboring countries rather than letting people cross Europe illegally”.

In recent years, the rate of protection of Afghans, the first nationality of asylum seekers in 2020, has fallen sharply, from 84% in 2017 to less than 65% in 2020. The increased threats should theoretically result in an increase in this protection. Just as they should allow Afghans who are currently unsuccessful in their asylum application to request a review of their case, as provided by law. Or even to agree to deal in France with the case of “dublin” Afghans – registered in another European country – but who have strong ties, family for example, with our country rather than sending them back to other states in France. the EU.

► And Europe?

Since the start of the year, 550,000 Afghans have been internally displaced by the conflict between the government and the Taliban, according to UNHCR. With the capture of Kabul by the insurgents, the number of candidates for exile is undoubtedly likely to increase. UNHCR called on states to “Put an end to the forced returns of Afghan nationals” to the country, including rejected asylum seekers.

In Europe, the migration issue is divisive. On August 5, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium sent a letter to the European Commission requesting the continuation of repatriations to Afghanistan despite the deteriorating situation in the country. . Some, like Germany, have backed down and suspended forced returns. France, Sweden or Finland have taken the same decision.

Migration policy remains above all the prerogative of the States and not that of the Union. “The States respond in dispersed order”, observes Pierre Berthelet, professor of public law at the University of Strasbourg. Despite Emmanuel Macron’s call to “A responsible and united response”, the establishment of a common migration policy has failed for several years. “The European presidencies have followed one another without succeeding in bringing the discussions to harmonize the asylum criteria. France will take over the presidency of the EU in January 2022. But the context of the presidential campaign will not be the best for bringing this kind of discussions to a successful conclusion ”, fears Jean-François Ploquin of Forum Réfugiés-Cosi.

“At best we can hope for minimal cooperation on the reception of small numbers of Afghans”, considers Pierre Berthelet. The subject will in any case be discussed at an emergency meeting of European interior ministers scheduled for Wednesday, August 18, which initially focused on the situation on the border between Lithuania and Belarus.

According to the researcher, the EU could be content, as it does with many third countries, to offer financial assistance to the first host countries like Iran and Pakistan, in an attempt to stem departures to the Europe. For the time being, Canada alone has said it is ready to welcome 20,000 Afghan families. Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro have also opened their doors.

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