Brussels, Belgium, 30 August 2021 — Tomorrow, Interior Ministers from across the EU will meet to discuss the bloc’s response to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. As needs escalate, the International Rescue Committee warns that humanitarian principles and protection – rather than border management – must guide Europe’s response.
The people of Afghanistan are facing a double crisis: not only are thousands trying to leave the country or flee their homes in search of safety and protection, but millions across Afghanistan are dependent on live-saving humanitarian aid.
With this year on track to see record levels of civilian casualties, and with half of Afghanistan’s population in need of assistance, including women and girls, urgent action is required.
In the aftermath of the horrifying attacks on the Kabul airport last week, EU humanitarian leadership is more critical than ever to ensure that all parties to the conflict commit – publicly – to facilitating unfettered humanitarian access, while ensuring that they uphold international humanitarian law and minimise civilian harm.
Imogen Sudbery, Executive Director, IRC Policy and Advocacy Europe says:
“Despite the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, EU ministers are continuing to stoke fears around refugee arrivals to Europe, contain people within the region, and evade their responsibilities to provide protection and assistance. An alarming draft statement, leaked ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, reveals how their commitments are falling significantly short of what’s needed to protect people in need.
In their rhetoric and their actions, EU leaders risk fatally compromising Europe’s moral integrity as well as its credibility as a global humanitarian actor. In particular, the EU is lagging behind other states that have already promised to resettle or temporarily host large numbers of vulnerable Afghan refugees from the region, including Canada, the UK, Mexico and multiple low and middle-income countries. Not only does this leave millions of Afghan people in imminent danger, but it undermines the wishes of the many citizens and local authorities across Europe who have repeatedly expressed their willingness to welcome refugees to their communities.
It’s time for EU leaders to show true humanitarian leadership, and ensure there are urgent pathways to protection available for the people forced to leave Afghanistan.
First, EU countries should use all available options to immediately bring people to safety from Afghanistan and the region - including evacuations, humanitarian visas, and an expanded use of family reunification. This is the moment to use all their diplomatic leverage to ensure people who wish to leave are able to do so. People who are at particular risk of persecution in Afghanistan – including women and girls, and those who have worked for European agencies - should be prioritised and urgently brought to safety.
Second, the EU must develop an additional, swift and bespoke EU-wide scheme to resettle at least 30,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees from the region in the next 12 months, so that neighbouring countries are not forced to shoulder protection responsibilities alone. In 2020, there were already 2.6 million Afghan refugees, of which 85% were hosted in Pakistan and Iran. This must be in addition to broader EU pledges to resettle at least 36,000 refugees in 2022, which states must commit to by the Commission’s current deadline of 15 September. In total, we’re calling on European leaders to commit to more than 66,000 resettlement places over the coming weeks.
Third, the EU must uphold the right to seek asylum for people fleeing Afghanistan. As in most crisis contexts, most refugees will remain in the region. The EU should support a regional refugee response, by pressing Afghanistan’s neighbours to keep border crossings open to refugees and asylum seekers, and to provide adequate support and protection. If they fail to do so, Afghans will be left with no option but to risk dangerous journeys in search of sanctuary elsewhere.
Importantly, these efforts cannot replace the EU’s responsibility to resettle, host and support refugees and asylum seekers in Europe. EU leaders must put an immediate stop to all forced returns to the region, and ensure that Afghans seeking protection in Europe receive a full and fair asylum procedure. Tomorrow’s JHA is an opportunity for EU leaders to make this a reality – they cannot turn their backs on the people of Afghanistan.”
How the IRC is helping in Afghanistan
The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988. We now work with thousands of villages across nine provinces, with Afghans making up more than 99% of IRC staff in the country. As Afghanistan struggles to recover from ongoing conflict and natural disasters, the IRC: works with local communities to identify, plan and manage their own development projects, provides safe learning spaces in rural areas, community-based education, cash distribution provides uprooted families with tents, clean water, sanitation and other basic necessities, and helps people find livelihood opportunities as well as extensive resilience programming.