In statement, global watchdog accuses bloc of dodging its responsibility to people at risk with hostile rhetoric and harmful policies
Human Rights Watch on Thursday slammed the European Union’s “cold-hearted” response to the plight of Afghans seeking to flee Taliban rule in the war-torn state, stressing that the bloc was dodging a shared global responsibility for refugees.
“Instead of showing leadership and compassion for people fleeing Taliban rule in Afghanistan, European Union leaders seem bent on a monstrous PR campaign to tell Afghans (and European voters) that those fleeing Afghanistan should not even think about finding safe haven in Europe,” read a statement issued by Judith Sunderland, the associate director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division.
She noted that during an Aug. 31 meeting of E.U. interior ministers, “representatives from Austria, Denmark, and the Czech Republic literally said the ‘most important message to send’ to Afghans is ‘to stay there, and we will support the region to help you’.” The Czech minister, in particular, said: “We are ready to help, but the issue needs to be resolved within the region. We do not want to raise hopes that cannot be fulfilled.” Similarly, HRW noted, Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer had warned the E.U. against making any concrete pledges to resettle Afghan refugees because it could encourage more people to come, and “we don’t want that.”
Multiple statements from the E.U. have claimed it wants to support countries neighboring Afghanistan—similar to Turkey’s hosting of Syrian refugees—“thus dodging what should be a shared responsibility for refugees, outsourcing border controls, and giving other countries incentives to instrumentalize migration for political gain,” Sunderland continued.
“Incentives to illegal migration should be avoided,” reads the European Union’s final statement after the meeting of interior ministers. “The word choices feel deliberate, with all the references to ‘illegal migration,’ ‘unauthorized entries,’ and security concerns but not to the legitimate exercise of the right to seek asylum,” stressed HRW. “Among the few concrete measures mentioned are ‘targeted information campaigns’ to discourage refugees from attempting to reach Europe. The statement never acknowledges obligations of international protection when people face persecution and similar serious threats to their rights,” it added.
HRW warned that individual E.U. states had already started implementing “harmful action” alongside their hostile rhetoric. “Poland has trapped a group of 32 Afghans at its border with Belarus, refusing to allow them in to apply for asylum. Croatia is pushing Afghans back into Bosnia. Greece finished building a 40-kilometer wall on its border with Turkey,” it said.
Instead of resorting to penalizing people seeking refuge, stressed the statement, E.U. states needed to undertake humane measures such as generous resettlement pledges, humanitarian and other visas, and family reunification “to ensure people most at-risk could receive protection without having to engage in dangerous journeys to safety.” It said that E.U. leaders should also respect and guarantee the rights of Afghans who reach the bloc and apply for asylum.
“And above all, E.U. leaders should demonstrate and communicate respect, understanding, and solidarity, not fear, when talking about Afghan refugees,” it added.
The E.U. has already expressed an eagerness to avoid a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis caused by the Syrian war when more than a million migrants entered the bloc. It has maintained that it wishes to focus on development aid, including support for refugees in Afghanistan’s neighbors like Pakistan and Tajikistan, to prevent migration flows from reaching the E.U. “The E.U. will engage and strengthen its support to third countries, in particular the neighboring and transit countries, hosting large numbers of migrants and refugees,” read the statement issued after the ministerial meeting. “The E.U. will also cooperate with those countries to prevent illegal migration from the region,” it added.