Europe Worries The Afghan Crisis Will Trigger A New Refugee Crisis

Concerns of a new refugee crisis are rising in Europe after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Six years after the 2015 migrant crisis that came dangerously close to splintering the EU, the continent is faced with the prospect of another one not far off. European leaders are keen to avoid a repeat of 2015, although the stars appear to be lining up in a similar fashion now. The Syrian Civil War was the impetus for the large influx of asylum-seeking refugees to Europe. With Taliban control of Afghanistan now complete and atrocities already beginning there, anxiety is growing on the continent. The message European governments want to convey to fleeing Afghans who have Europe in mind is: if you are determined to leave, go to neighboring countries, don’t attempt to come here. This applies to all Afghans except for those who helped Western military forces during the 20-year war.

Earlier this week, as Afghanistan descended into deeper chaos, European Union officials told interior ministers that the key to avoiding a new refugee crisis is to prevent a humanitarian disaster from occurring. Without a large amount of humanitarian aid, Afghans will start moving in large numbers. Meanwhile, Austria has suggested setting up deportation centers in the nations neighboring Afghanistan to speed up the deportation process for those who are denied asylum.

In Southern Europe, Greece has made it very clear it does not want to see a repeat of the 2015 crisis that saw a number of its islands in the Aegean Sea become the entry point to Europe for hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other Arab refugees. Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has said Greece won’t accept being the “gateway for irregular flows into the EU,” and that the Greek government considers Turkey to be a safe place for Afghans. Ankara has differing thoughts on that, not surprisingly. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned in a speech Thursday that “Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse.”

As European Union nations bicker and Brussels attempts to organize itself, Great Britain has declared it will welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees by the end of the year and has plans to resettle 20,000 more over the next three years.  

Pandemic Politics: The Schengen Dilemma

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With more European cases of COVID-19 appearing every day, the subject of potential border closures in the Schengen free travel zone is becoming more prevalent. Earlier this week the European Union stated it has no plans to suspend the Schengen Agreement or recommend border closures as a way to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. That was on Monday, and the situation has arguably worsened since then. Schengen’s rules provide EU member-states with discretion to apply border controls in response to internal security or a threat to public policy although the EU would prefer if they were never used. The last time Schengen was seriously challenged was in 2015 during the European migrant crisis. Border controls were unilaterally put back in effect by certain EU member-states to stem or block the flow of refugees streaming over their borders.

Given the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading around the continent, border restrictions might be coming back into play in the near future. To be honest, it is surprising to see that it has not happened yet. The Italian government refuses to suspend the Schengen Agreement and reimplement controls even as a COVID-19 outbreak is underway in Italy. Government officials appear to be nowhere near the point where border restrictions can be considered a justifiable preventative measure. “Closing down the borders would make no sense, as the circulation of the virus is not just limited to administrative borders,” junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told a French reporter.

Most other EU member-states are thinking along similar lines for the moment. If the uptick in case numbers increase, and spread into previously untouched nations in the coming days this will likely change. Policy matters, and the benefits of open borders cannot be allowed to trump public safety at a time when Europe and the rest of the world may very well stand on the brink of a major pandemic.