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EU aid to Afghanistan conditional on refugees return

“Afghan government shall accept 80,000 deported asylum seekers or lose aid,” secret EU memo reveals

AT-KABUL:  The European Union’s memo regarding Afghanistan has been leaked ahead of the Brussels summit making the aid to Afghanistan conditional on acceptance of at least 80,000 deported asylum seekers.

Based on the leaked restricted memo, the EU would make some of its aid “migration sensitive”, even while acknowledging that security in Afghanistan is worsening.

The subject of the leaked memo is “Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Afghanistan”.

“In 2015 irregular migration of Afghan origin to the EU reached an unprecedented level of around 213,000 persons, making Afghans the second largest group of migrants and asylum-seekers to the EU last year, after the Syrians, followed by the Iraqis. Main countries of destination are Germany and Sweden. Many are unaccompanied minors,” the memo said.

If furthered that an important share of these migrants do not come directly from Afghanistan but that they were previously in Iran or Pakistan. The main route to reach Europe is from Turkey, via Greece and subsequently through Western Balkans.

It said, “The Afghan migrants can be divided into: refugees, coming from affected areas of conflict [qualifying for asylum in EU Member States] and economic migrants [who do not qualifyfor asylum status].”

According to the memo, the main push factors are deteriorating security situation with record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties compounded by a deteriorating economic situation. Over 11,000 civilian casualties recorded in 2015. Both are likely to grow stronger. The EU and member states should identify, with support from EASO, and share information on the situations and regions in which a risk of refoulement exists, and where return cannot be carried out. This information should be shared to ensure a coherent and fair approach towards Afghan migrants and authorities, the memo added.

“A survey by Democracy International showed that 82% of household youth and 72% of students point to unemployment and poverty as their major concern in Afghanistan right now—the percentage of household youth respondents naming unemployment as the biggest problem facing youth has more than doubled since 2013,” the leaked memo said.

The memo furthered that the member states have the competence, when processing asylum applications, to declare which areas are safe or not. “There is a divergent practice on the type of protection given (refugee or subsidiarity protection) and with regard to on which ground (indiscriminate violence/armed conflict or torture/inhuman degrading treatment) asylum is granted. There is a need for a common definition of safe areas in Afghanistan (not obvious, given the rising insecurity in many provinces).”

“With regard to refugee flows, Afghanistan is primarily a country of origin, with 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran and 2.9 million in Pakistan – many of whom have been there for decades. There are,however, 230,000 Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan. There are 1.1million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan,” the memo says.

According to the memo, the EU has pledged €1.4 billion in development aid to Afghanistan for the 2014-2020 period—more than to any other country under the DCI. The four focal sectors including agriculture and rural development, health, policing and the rule of law, and democratic institutions and accountability address root causes of fragility and migration. “The EU is accelerating the delivery of its assistance and plans for EUR 300 million in new commitments in 2016 and to commit more than 50% of the 2014-20 Multiannual Indicative Programme in the first three years,” the memo outlined.

It further says that Afghan refugees in the region face restrictions on their integration into the labor market and society, rendering their situation precarious without reliable long-term perspectives. At least 100,000 Afghans are in Turkey, of which 80,000 are registered international protection applicants, with applications often remaining pending for years, and rarely leading to asylum being granted.

“Due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, as well as pressure on Afghans in Pakistan and Iran, there is a high risk of further migratory flows to Europe. This calls for a strengthening of interventions to maintain asylum space in the region,” the memo highlighted, adding that the dialogue with Afghan authorities is difficult and uneven. While President Ghani and parts of the Afghan Government are publicly committed to cooperate on readmission, other members of the Government do not appear to facilitate the return of irregular migrants, while attempting to re-negotiate conditions to restrict the acceptance of returnees.

Afghanistan remains highly aid dependent (around 40% of GDP), with two-third of the budget allocated to the security sector. Without continued high levels of international transfers, the Afghan state established after the 2002 intervention is unlikely to prevail, as it is being faced by multiple security, economic and political challenges.

According to the memo, the EU would continue to mainstream migration in ongoing and planned programs in line with areas identified in the national policy paper on migration and national development policies. It also says that the EU would continue to support the Afghan government’s ambitious reform policies ‘realizing self-reliance’ as a sound overall framework to stabilize Afghanistan and address root causes of migration, while providing additional targeted assistance provided to specifically migration relevant government programs, such as the government’s quick impact job stimulus program (€30 million in 2016) and the government’s program on biometrical national identification documents (€12 million).

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