European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson arrives for a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Aug. 31, 2021. European Union ministers met Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan and migration issues.
The UN refugee agency is warning that half a million Afghans could leave their country by the end of the year. But where will people from Afghanistan flee?
In Europe, several countries are sending a clear message: Don't come here. Many in Europe don't want a repeat of 2015, when more than a million asylum-seekers, mostly Syrians, arrived on the continent.
European Comissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, Europe's top migration official, is calling for a global response to support Afghans in Afghanistan, in order to avoid a migration crisis in Europe.
Usually based in Brussels, Johansson is currently in Washington, DC, where she's been meeting with US officials. She joined The World's host Marco Werman to discuss the EU's plans to avoid another migration crisis like the one in 2015.
Marco Werman: Madam Commissioner, what is the plan EU ministers have come to this week for managing Afghan migration?
Ylva Johannson: The most important to avoid a migration crisis is to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. So we should not wait until a lot of people already have fled the country and may be coming to the European borders. We need to help people, Afghans in Afghanistan. We need to continue with humanitarian aid. The European Commission has decided to quadruple the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. We need also to put pressure on the new regime of the Taliban to respect at least a core of women's rights and fundamental rights. And it's important also to say that, of course, there are people that are under immediate threat right now in Afghanistan. Many of them have been evacuated by the Western countries, but there are still people that have been fighting for women's rights, women's rights defenders, humanitarian right defenders. This is important that we give international protection to these people through resettlement, and that needs to be a global response. So I spoke a few days ago to Secretary for Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, about this. The US will do resettlement, Canada will do resettlement, UK will do resettlement, and the European Union will do resettlement. And we have to work jointly on this.
So, to that first part, what does it look like to provide humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan right now to prevent that outward migration?
The United Nations is still on the ground working there, helping people, for example, the internally displaced people in Afghanistan to go back to their homes. And I think this is important and I think we should make sure that they can continue their work. And also, the European Commission has decided to freeze the development aid to Afghanistan, and to put pressure on the new regime. And we know that the Taliban are saying that they will act differently from the previous time, but we also know what they are capable of. So the important thing is how they will act.
Humanitarian assistance on the ground won't be like it was over the past 10 years, I would think.
We don't really know yet, but probably it would not be as it has been, of course. But things are changing more or less hour by hour or day by day now. So we need, of course, to prepare for different kinds of scenarios. But my point is that we should not focus on what to do if we have a huge migration crisis. We should try to avoid the migration crisis. That would be the first step. But then, of course, we need to prepare for different scenarios.
So, if there is that migration crisis, talk to us next about the plan in the EU to support Afghanistan's neighbors, to take in refugees: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, specifically.
That, of course, needs to be developed together with those countries. And I don't think that is one-size-fits-all. So, it has to be tailored for each country. If there is a huge inflow of migrants coming to their country, then we need to be prepared to help.
What about details in this plan? How much would it cost? What are EU leaders ready to offer? And specifically, which of Afghanistan's neighbors could be receiving that money?
We are not at that point yet. We have not come up with that.
I read that there was a proposed budget of some $600 million.
That's not correct. I can't confirm that. It's not correct.
So, it is a contingency plan, but it is one being considered by the EU. I mean, hypothetically, we've heard Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan mentioned. If that does turn out to be the case after negotiating with them, do you think countries like those can shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees?
Let's hope that we will not have a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. And of course, nobody wants a situation where a lot of people need to flee their country. So that's why we should not wait until that happens.
There are several EU countries, including Greece, Croatia and Hungary, which have been accused time and again of illegally pushing back asylum-seekers trying to make it to the EU. Are you concerned about this happening to Afghans fleeing Taliban control?
Well, of course, when I hear reports on illegal pushbacks, violent pushbacks, of course, I'm concerned about that. And I'm convinced that member states, of course, they need to protect and are obliged to protect their external borders. But of course, they are also obliged to comply with fundamental rights in the Geneva Convention.
What about Afghans who are already in Europe? I mean, there are thousands of people who are waiting on their asylum applications as we speak. Will their cases be reviewed any differently now, given the situation in Afghanistan?
That could be. It's the responsibility for member states. And one issue that I raised is that member states actually differ a lot when it comes to the recognition rate of Afghans applying for asylum. And I call for a more Europeanized assessment of the asylum applications, in general. But now, of course, for the Afghans.
From your position in the EU, is it your belief, Ms. Johansson, that the at-risk Afghans in a war that the US started should first and foremost be an American responsibility?
I think the US has a responsibility here. And this is what I've been discussing with Alejandro Mayorkas and [the] US is ready to take part of this responsibility. But I think this is also why we call for a global response here, so we have to work together. It's important to have the right combination of giving protection to people in need of international protection to really try to avoid a humanitarian crisis, but also, of course, to manage migration in an orderly way so that we will not repeat the situation from 2015.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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