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Security dominates EU draft statement on Afghan migration

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The EU emphasized security and keeping Afghan migrants outside the bloc in a draft statement obtained Thursday by POLITICO.

The two-page document — dated August 25 and slated for discussion at an EU interior ministers meeting Tuesday — used the word “security” five times while pledging resources and support to Afghanistan’s neighbors willing to host refugees. Absent was any mention of how many refugees the EU might accept. 

“We should do our utmost to ensure that migrants receive protection in the region itself,” read the statement, which was prepared by the Slovenian presidency of the EU.

EU ambassadors and diplomats did discuss refugee resettlement during a meeting Thursday, but they are waiting to learn more about the global refugee effort before issuing their own figures, one diplomat said. According to another official, there are also fears that offering specifics at this point could inflame tensions along Afghanistan’s borders with its neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan.  

Taken together, the document and meeting add to the growing indication that the EU will take a cautious approach to migration in the wake of the Taliban seizing control in Afghanistan. They also reveal the pervasive European anxieties over a migration surge, given the bloc’s fractious internal disputes over the issue. Already, senior EU leaders have stressed in their early remarks the need for migration partnerships with countries outside the bloc, including Turkey and Pakistan. 

Thus far, only a small number of countries have volunteered to take in a set number of Afghan refugees — Canada and the U.K., for instance, have both pledged to resettle 20,000 people.

In discussing the EU’s approach, the draft statement cited the 2015 surge of migrants from war-torn Syria, during which over 1 million Syrians sought protection in the EU. 

This time, the statement pledged, the EU would “act jointly to prevent the recurrence of [the] migration situation faced in 2015.” And it encouraged a unified EU message to “avoid sending messages that could potentially act as pull factors,” using officials’ jargon for actions that attract migrants.

Still, the statement committed to evacuating “Afghan nationals who have cooperated with the EU.”

The EU, the statement said, “will continue to coordinate with international partners, in particular the U.N., on the stabilization of the region” and will “ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to vulnerable populations in Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries.”

When it came to resettlement, though, the statement used the conditional tense.  

“Support could be provided in the form of resettlement on a voluntary basis, in particular for vulnerable groups such as women and children,” it said.

On security, it was much blunter. 

The EU and member states, the document read, “will do their utmost to ensure that the situation in Afghanistan does not lead to new security threats for EU citizens.” It pledged to “use all its available tools to closely monitor developments on the ground that might impact its security, in particular in the area of terrorism and organised crime.”

The statement was drawn up before Thursday’s explosions near Kabul airport that killed multiple U.S. troops. The Kabul airfield is being used to evacuate people ahead of an August 31 deadline to remove all western troops.

According to two diplomats, there will soon be another draft of the text, which has only been discussed thus far at a technical level. On Monday, senior diplomats are expected to discuss the political elements of the statement. 

One of the diplomats said some EU countries want to dial back the security-heavy rhetoric in the text. 

A group of MEPs wants them to go even farther than that. On Thursday, 76 MEPs from roughly a dozen countries circulated a letter calling on the EU to immediately offer Afghans temporary protection. 

The mostly left-leaning lawmakers cited a never-before-invoked “Temporary Protection Directive.” If activated, the directive would allow the EU to instantly offer protection to a specific refugee category. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, first floated the idea last week.

Supporters of the move note it allows the EU to move quickly without gaining unanimous consent from members, avoiding a veto from migration hardliners like Hungary and Poland. Yet the directive was not mentioned in Thursday’s draft statement. And according to diplomats, it was not discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

Maïa de La Baume contributed reporting.

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