Let me go home? Peace decides the fate of Afghan refugees

KABUL (TASS): Official UN figures speak for themselves: after the Taliban (a terrorist group banned in Russia) launched a covert offensive earlier this year, 550,000 Afghans have left their homes. Half of them fled only recently – starting in May, mostly accumulating at the state borders and at the Kabul airport. Through these loopholes, 20,000 to 30,000 people leave the country every week.

The fate of most of these people depends on the decisions of the neighboring states – Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. Many refugees would like to travel to Europe. But this will be much harder than for the Syrians in 2015: the path is longer, and public opinion in the EU is now unfriendly. If migrants venture out on a long journey, then they will face the sea, mountains, artificial walls, the state borders of Iran, Turkey and Greece. An obstacle course that not everyone can cope with.

The first stop on the way of a migrant who left Afghanistan is a temporary campground. Two powers – Iran and Pakistan – have placed them on the Afghan border with the right to receive refugees. The conditions for those correspond to the dire economic situation of both states. Despite this, some of the refugees will almost certainly have to stay where they will be accepted. Statistics show that 36% of Afghans who have ever fled to Pakistan are still living in a tent camp. Meeting with them for fleeing from the Taliban is not without risks. Indeed, unlike the current ones, the former emigrants from Afghanistan are often supporters of the Taliban, Islamism, opponents of the United States, before that – the USSR.

Those who leave the camp in Pakistan will be able to join the nearly one million Afghans who are there illegally. And this is also dangerous. Over four decades of coexistence, Pakistanis have amassed a score for them. Local authorities, already running deportation campaigns , announced in July that the country was overcrowded and there was no room for new settlers. Those who do arrive due to extraordinary circumstances are expected to return home over time.

The situation for refugees is better across the Iranian border. One of the Afghan languages ​​Dari and Iranian Farsi are closely related to each other. Tehran agreed to set up campgrounds in three provinces bordering Afghanistan. But here, too, there are already too many Afghan refugees: according to various estimates, from 800 thousand  to a million. The economic decline caused by the US sanctions and the pandemic is robbing these people of their life prospects. And the integration of Sunnis by religion in the Shiite country is facing challenges. Over the past decades, Afghan refugees have looked to the West: back in the 2010s, they ranked second in the number of migrants to the EU after Syrians. But to get to the European Union and ask for asylum, Iranian Afghans must first bypass Turkey.

This country is another in the Middle East, tired of migrants. There are 4 million of them on its territory  – including about a million in the city limits of Istanbul. The overwhelming majority of them are from Syria. The course towards their integration into the local society has not yet borne fruit, but ethnic crime is growing and local xenophobia is increasing in response. Istanbul residents are suspicious of the growing Arabization of the city. This affects the voting results. In 2019, the candidate from President Erdogan’s party lost local elections. The anti-migrant wave is being used for its own purposes by the main systemic opponent of the authorities, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. He suspects the state of collusion with the Europeans on the migration issue. “Our country will not withstand new refugees. [Erdogan], tell me what you promised the West,” demands an answer oppositionist. Unsurprisingly, the authorities are seeking to deny these accusations. In August, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavushuoglu announced that his country would not be “neither a border service, nor a refugee camp for the EU.”

In this matter, the Turkish authorities managed to start preparations in advance. Since 2017, work has been underway to build a wall on the border between Iran and Turkey. Simultaneously with the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the pace of construction was accelerated. By August 2020, an imposing structure was almost completed, stretching for 300 km with a wall height of up to 3 m.However, they may not be enough. Part of the border between the countries is mountainous. Against all odds, Afghans cross it illegally. Even in the relatively calm first months of the year, 27,000 Afghans crossed the Turkish border. After the arrival of the Taliban, this flow may increase significantly.

Having overcome the obstacle at the border, illegal refugees are doomed to join the world of the local shadow economy. Those of them who try to leave it as soon as possible will head west through Asia Minor to the shores of the Aegean Sea, where the summer season of illegal migration is in full swing. Having come into contact with the mafia of professional transporters, on overcrowded boats with a risk to their lives, the displaced, if they want, can continue on their way towards the islands of Greece. According to the agreement in force between the EU and Turkey, Athens has the right to detain and deport them back. But in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to do this. The Greek authorities reproach President Erdogan for unwillingness to cooperate, while the Turks find their own reasons for claims. The agreement governing the rights of the parties provides for payments from the sending party to the one that receives the migrants. Ankara complains about delays in financing and disrespect for its interests by the European Union. The mutual disagreement of the powers leaves the settlers with the hope of squeezing between a rock and a hard place and still gaining a foothold in the Old World, contrary to the law.

This is what the Greek authorities least want. After the fall of the legitimate government in Kabul, Greek Migration Minister Panagiotis Mitarakis said that his country did not intend to become a gateway for a new wave of refugees. Although Brussels recognizes the need for European solidarity, it has not been possible for many years to develop its principles in relation to refugees. This means: if the Afghans do get to Greece, then the country will be left alone with them, unless they themselves decide to move on in search of a better life – to the north and west of the European Union.

Europe is pending

The most developed states of the European Union fear that the wave of Afghan migration may eventually reach them. And they take action at the very first approaches. An investigation by the Bild newspaper revealed that, while evacuating its troops from Afghanistan, Germany refused visas to hundreds of Afghans who worked with them. Instead, Bundeswehr helicopters took home 340 bottles of wine and 65,000 cans of beer . The press called this “beer evacuation” shameful. But the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, unexpectedly agreed to defend it. According to him, granting German visas to 2,000 Afghans who asked for them would be a gross political mistake: “Then [in the future] we would have to talk not about 2,000, but about 20,000 visas,” he said. …

The left-liberal opposition – the Green Party – expects from the government of Angela Merkel that she will still allow flows of migrants into the country. It is extremely difficult to hope for this in the foreseeable months. Only six weeks separate the country from the general elections. Fearing the growing popularity of nationalists from the Alternative for Germany party, the ruling conservatives undertake to defend a tough anti-immigration course. France adheres to the same position, and for similar reasons: there are eight months before the presidential elections. President Emmanuel Macron, who has yet to announce his nomination but is considered one of the favorites, announced that “Europe must protect itself from illegal migration flows” and “the EU cannot take on all the consequences of the current situation on its own.”  Afghan migrants are still ready to accept in the UK and several thousand in Albania.

The refugees who remain without support in Western Europe have only one chance left: North America, where Canada is already ready to take up to 20 thousand Afghan migrants, and the United States, at least, is in a moral debt to them. But before deciding to admit Afghans, the Americans have to solve their own problem: according to various estimates, from 10,000 to 40,000 of their fellow citizens remain abandoned in Afghanistan. Returning them to their homeland is the primary task for Joe Biden. By solving it first, Washington can then determine whether it will give the green light to the resettlement of Afghans or not.