Mass Exodus from Afghanistan Sparks New Migrant Crisis in Europe
When foreign policy expert Kemal Kirişci warned of "a mass exodus of refugees fleeing Afghanistan could spark another migration crisis" in April, his research received little attention.
Now, as the Taliban completes a rapid takeover of the country following the US and NATO decision to withdraw, his predictions may have already started to materialise.
An estimated 400,000 people in the country have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the year, according to the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR).
Caroline Van Buren, UNHCR's representative in Afghanistan, said between 20,000 and 30,000 people were leaving the country on a weekly basis.
"We are now seeing a large number of people leaving Afghanistan: flights are full and these people, of course, are people who have travel documents, we are able to get visas, who have residency permits in other countries," she said. "But now we're also seeing a trend of people who are moving in an irregular way, people who are fleeing for their own safety without travel documents and they are much at risk for exploitation."
With more Afghans seeking shelter or looking to escape, there are concerns in Europe that migrant numbers will increase.
The European Union is still scarred by the migration crisis of 2015-16, which saw hundreds of thousands of arrivals from Syria. The episode sparked intense disputes within the 27-nation bloc on sharing the migrant burden among themselves, with populist parties in some parts of Europe surfing on anti-immigration sentiment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who massively welcomed Syrian refugees in Germany in 2015 under her famous motto “We can do it”, has changed tune.
She addressed the issue of Afghan refugees at a press conference last month saying: “We cannot solve all of these problems by taking everyone in.”
“It cannot be the case that Austria and Germany are solving the Afghanistan problem for the EU,” Austrian Interior Minister Nehammer told reporters as he complained of a surge in irregular migration this year.
Turkish authorities said last month they were closely monitoring any influx of Afghan migrants, with more than 27,000 caught crossing the Iranian border so far this year. The Iranian-Turkish border has long been a popular smuggling route for Afghan migrants seeking to enter Turkey before continuing their journey to Europe.
In addition to the Turkey route, Lithuania says Afghan refugees have begun arriving into the country via Belarus, suggesting a new route could be in its infancy. Vilnius has accused Minsk of organising illicit border crossings as part of a "hybrid war" against the EU.
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