Europe Scrambles to Avoid Migrant-Crisis Rerun as Afghans Are Resettled

Europe Scrambles to Avoid Migrant-Crisis Rerun as Afghans Are Resettled

12:47 - Leaders are orchestrating a diplomatic push to keep most Afghan refugees in the region after the Taliban takeover

European governments are pushing to keep the doors open for people trying to flee Afghanistan while preventing a mass of refugees reaching Europe as the U.S.-led evacuation winds down.

A European plan initiated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron would potentially combine billions of euros in funding for Afghanistan and its neighbors to help cater for refugees and internally displaced people, with measures aimed at securing Europe’s borders and cracking down on smugglers, according to officials and documents seen by The Wall Street Journal.

The proposal, to be put to other European Union members for approval on Tuesday, seeks to calibrate the need to protect those Afghans vulnerable to persecution under Taliban regime with the desire to pre-empt a repeat of the 2015-16 refugee crisis in Europe, when more than two million asylum seekers streamed into the bloc.

EU officials are holding talks with Taliban leaders to ensure any EU funding finds its way to those people displaced by the movement’s rapid advances in recent weeks so as to prevent a mass-scale exodus from the country, according to officials and confidential documents seen by the Journal.

The officials are also negotiating with Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Qatar and Turkey for those countries to help manage the potential outpouring of refugees.

“The EU and its member states stand determined to act jointly to prevent the recurrence of uncontrolled large-scale migration movements faced in the past,” a draft statement of EU interior ministers reads. “We should avoid creating pull factors and do our utmost to ensure that migrants receive protection primarily in the region itself.”

So far, very few European countries have committed to settle Afghan civilians beyond the people evacuated in recent days. Britain has said it would take in at least 10,000 this year and EU officials have said they could offer cash for member states to resettle people. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said any resettlement scheme would be voluntary and that Europe would make commitments only as part of an international agreement with the U.S., Canada and others to take in refugees.

Germany alone has offered 100 million euros, equivalent to $118 million, in emergency aid to Afghanistan, with another €500 million to be shared between Afghanistan and its neighbors and which would primarily be used to take care of refugees, German government officials said.

Even before the fall of Kabul, the EU earmarked over €20 million to help Iran and Pakistan deal with the inflow of Afghan refugees. On Tuesday, the EU said Pakistan and Iran stood to receive some €100 million this year to help host Afghans. The EU also suspended around €1 billion in development aid to Afghanistan after the Taliban swept into Kabul. That money could also be redirected to help Afghan refugees in the region, diplomats said.

European diplomats say significantly more money could be found to help Afghanistan’s neighbors from EU funds in programs that would mirror on a smaller scale the billions of euros the bloc has paid out to persuade Turkey to continue hosting several million Syrian refugees.

Italian officials indicated that the funding they had previously earmarked to support Afghan armed forces could now be redirected toward humanitarian projects in the country.

Ms. Merkel spoke to the prime minister of Pakistan and the presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkey in recent days, while her special envoy for Afghanistan has been negotiating with senior Taliban officials in Qatar since Aug. 19, according to German government officials.

Markus Potzel, the German negotiator, said he had received assurances that the Taliban would keep a civilian airport running and allow those on Western evacuation lists with proper legal documents to leave after the final pullout of North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops on Aug. 31.

A senior EU official said on Friday that the Taliban wasn’t committing to letting Afghans citizens leave the country. “For the time being, we have nothing material to ensure there will be more evacuations.”

Separate negotiations are continuing with Turkey and Qatar with the aim of having the two nations manage Kabul’s airport and provide security for civilian flights, according to European officials.

European and U.S. diplomats said the greatest challenge was providing security at the airport after the bomb attack on Thursday.

Germany ended its rescue effort on Thursday but has around 300 citizens as well as 10,000 Afghans on its evacuation lists who are still in Afghanistan, including pro-democracy activists, journalists and others potentially at threat from the Taliban.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that under a worst-case scenario, 500,000 Afghans out of a population of about 32 million could attempt to flee the country, Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner, told reporters Friday.

Separately, EU leaders have launched a broader diplomatic effort to stabilize Afghanistan.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has for days been proposing a virtual summit of the Group of 20 leading global economies in mid-September to coordinate international diplomatic efforts toward the country after the West’s military withdrawal.

Mr. Draghi, whose country is chairing G-20 meetings this year, has argued that the U.S. and Europe need to talk to other powers with interests and potential influence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, including Russia, China, Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia, all of which are members of the G-20.

Other European governments have also called for cooperation between the West and other powers such as China and Russia to coordinate efforts to negotiate with the Taliban, secure access to Afghanistan for aid and contain terrorist threats.

It isn’t clear yet whether the proposed G-20 summit will go ahead. The format would be broader than the Group of Seven virtual summit earlier this week, at which European leaders couldn’t convince the U.S. to extend its presence beyond Aug. 31 to facilitate evacuations from Kabul. But even the G-20 doesn’t include some crucial players, such as Afghanistan’s neighbors Pakistan and Iran.

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