The EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward on Migration: a new low for the EU


Brussels, Paris - On October 4, European Union (EU) and Afghan leaders signed “the EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward on Migration issues" [1] aimed at facilitating the return and readmission of Afghan “irregular” migrants from the EU to Afghanistan. FIDH denounces a shameful deal negotiated in secret, which is bound to violate the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

According to the agreement, Afghanistan pledges its commitment to readmit its nationals who “entered into the EU or are staying on the EU territory irregularly, after due consideration of each individual case by Member States”, whether they accepted to return to Afghanistan or not. During the first six months of the implementation of the deal, return flights should not carry more than 50 forcibly returned people, but the number of flights is not limited.

“Attempts by the EU to leverage its humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan to secure the readmission of Afghan nationals in their country of origin represents a new low. This dubious deal negotiated behind closed doors opens the door to the deportation of an unlimited number of failed asylum-seekers. Given the lack of adequate and fair asylum systems in some countries in the EU, the risk that thousands of Afghans in need of international protection could be deported to Afghanistan is real”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

Afghans are currently the second largest group of arrivals in Europe since 2015. [2] In 2016, 128 000 Afghans lodged asylum-applications in Europe, only second to Syrians. [3] The armed conflict in Afghanistan has caused many people to be uprooted. As of August 2016, there were 1.2 million internally displaced people in the country according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). [4] The absorption capacity of the country is limited. Afghans remain one of the largest protracted refugee populations of concern to the UN Refugee Agency, with over 2.6 million refugees abroad, including 95 % in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan. [5]

The withdrawal of most international forces from Afghanistan in 2014 has led to increased levels of violence. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the first semester of 2016 witnessed « the highest total number of civilian casualties recorded by UNAMA since 2009 » with 5 166 civilian casualties, including a steady rise of children casualties. [6] UNAMA attributed 60% of all civilian casualties to anti-government elements (whilst 23% of the casualties were attributed to pro-Government armed groups). Women, including high-level officials and women human rights defenders, are deliberately targeted with threats, harassment and violence. Children continue to be recruited and used by anti-government elements and Afghan security forces. Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and judges are threatened, harassed and are the target of violence. These serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are perpetrated in total impunity.

“The security situation in Afghanistan is alarming with indiscriminate violence, suicide attacks and improvised explosive device attacks. Thousands of civilians continue to be killed, abducted, maimed and displaced by the armed conflict. Nobody should be deported there. Sugar-coating the deal by recklessly stating that returns will be safe will not make them so. How can the EU pretend that it will respect international law including the protection against non-refoulement? Afghanistan is simply not safe”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

A 2016 report by the European Asylum Support Office Country of Origin Information referred to the existing lack of protection against violence in the country by stating: “According to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Afghan authorities are, in general, unable to provide protection against violence, with the only possible exception being the city of Kabul, but only to some extent”. [7]

In March 2016, the EU concluded a deal with Turkey which allowed for fast-tracked mass expulsions of all ‘new irregular migrants’ from the Greek islands back to Turkey. This agreement led to countless violations of the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees including violations of the principle of non-refoulement.

The EU and its member States should ensure that cooperation in the field of migration with countries of origin of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees fully complies with their obligations under international and European human rights and refugee law and does not directly or indirectly contribute to human rights violations. Short-sighted policies aimed at sealing off borders at all costs and at returning migrants without adequate consideration of the risks of human rights violations they would be exposed to in their countries of origin are not a sustainable solution. The EU and its member States should refrain from entering any new cooperation agreement and repeal or suspend any existing one with countries which do not offer sufficient guarantees of respect for human rights. They should open safe and legal channels for migration into Europe including by increasing their resettlement capacity. Addressing the root causes of violence that force people to flee countries like Afghanistan should be a priority.

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