Eternally displaced: Afghanistan’s refugee crisis and what it means for Europe

To stem the influx of Afghan refugees, Europe needs to turn to Asian partners, working not only with Kabul but with its neighbours

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Afghans are the second biggest group claiming asylum in Europe, and their numbers are set to keep rising. To stem the influx of Afghan refugees, Europe needs to turn to Asian partners, working not only with Kabul but with its neighbours – particularly China, Pakistan, India, and Iran – argues “Eternally displaced: Afghanistan’s refugee crisis and what it means for Europe”.

2015 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the US invasion, with a resurgent Taliban forcing civilians to flee their homes. This year’s “Spring Offensive” by the militant group points to more violence ahead.

The Kabul government is struggling even to count those who move across its uncontrolled borders, let alone tackle people smugglers, house the internally displaced, or support refugees who return.

Europe has a moral responsibility to act, and major interests at stake. The broader refugee crisis is straining ties within the EU, and Afghanistan is suffering a brain drain: a disproportionate number of those who make it to Europe are the educated middle classes, who will be vital for the country to rebuild itself.

Europe can help by coordinating the return of refugees to safe areas of the country, supporting Kabul to develop a coherent migration policy, and targeting aid at the internally displaced so that they aren’t forced to cross borders. It will be crucial to work with other Asian governments to improve the situation of Afghans in the region – many come to Europe after months or years in Iran or Pakistan, driven out by conflict or lack of opportunities in these neighbouring countries.

These countries – along with India and China, the region’s biggest powers – have a major interest in Afghanistan’s stability. Beijing in particular can boost the economy by making Afghanistan a core part of its One Belt, One Road infrastructure project, and can keep up the pressure on Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The paper’s author, Angela Stanzel, said:

“The hopes that Afghans put in the future of their country at the time of the 2014 elections have been dashed. Its prospects in terms of security, politics, and the economy are poor, and getting worse. As long as there is no improvement, refugees will continue to come to Europe, and it will be hard to resettle those who return.”

“The EU and its member states should commit to long-term humanitarian aid, development assistance, and military presence. This would be a signal to Afghans that they will not be abandoned – and also to militant groups such as ISIS and the Taliban. Not least, it would be a signal to those in Afghanistan who are at crossroads in deciding whether to join militant groups, to leave the country, or to stay and help to rebuild.”

“Actors in the region – especially China, India, Iran, and Pakistan – will play a crucial role in determining Afghanistan’s future. They share with Europe an interest in Afghanistan’s stability: in averting civil war, economic collapse, massive refugee flows, and displacement. The security and development they can help to deliver is an essential part of any long-term effort to manage the flow of migrants to Europe.”

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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