EU states are concerned that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could trigger a replay of the crisis of 2015-2016, when the arrival of more than a million migrants, predominantly from the Middle East, stretched security and welfare systems and fuelled support for far-right groups. The concern is sparking a bitter row between member states after a meeting last week of home affairs ministers.
Austria and Slovenia are among those who are calling for a halt of migrant arrivals to the bloc.
Luxembourg foreign minister accused the two countries of “doing everything they can just to prevent refugees from coming to Europe” at the meeting.
While Slovenia’s foreign minister warned of “terrorist attacks on European soil.”
European Commissioner Margaritis Schinas said that events in Afghanistan could be a catalyst for the European Union to forge a common migration policy.
The Greek commissioner, whose brief includes migration policy, told Austrian daily Wiener Zeitung: “It is true that we are now in a major crisis, but the EU did not cause the situation, yet we are once again called upon to be part of a solution.”
While not seeing a migration crisis, he said he wanted to “avoid a reflex that takes us back to the crisis year 2015 before it is even clear how the situation will develop”.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) has said up to 500,000 Afghans could flee their homeland by year-end.
The EU was better prepared this time, with stronger external border protection and financial resources to help Afghanistan’s neighbours, while EU states’ policies were increasingly converging, Schinas said.
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He said: “Therefore, I see now as the moment to agree on a common European migration and asylum policy, as we proposed in the EU Commission in September.”
Schinas said differences remained among members, with strong opposition to a deal among “the populists on the right and left fringes”, but he saw a window for one after French presidential elections in May 2022, by when there would also be a new government in Germany.
Last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also slammed some of his EU counterparts for failing to agree on a common migration policy and refusing to take in Afghan migrants.
The Italian leader called into question the very existence of the EU as he lambasted leaders in the bloc for saying they would not take in refugees fleeing Afghanistan.
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In a huge swipe at his counterparts in the bloc, he lamented “nobody has a clear strategy” on how to tackle the issue of migration.
The former European Central Bank chief said European Union countries had to do a better job on confronting migration issues and criticised those member states that were refusing to take in more Afghan refugees.
Mr Draghi said: “The European Union … is still unable to manage such crises … some countries already said they don’t want any Afghans. How can you do that?”
He added: “Europe, united by many principles, is unable to tackle the problem and this is a thorn in the very existence of the bloc.
“Nobody can claim to have a clear strategy at this stage. Nobody has a road map.”
Austria, where more than 40,000 Afghan refugees already live, has made clear it will not accept any more people and Hungary – a traditional hardliner on immigration – has rejected any plans to accommodate large numbers.