Europe fears Afghan refugee crisis after Taliban takeover

HANGEDIGI, Turkey: From above, the new border wall separating Turkey from Iran looks like a white snake winding through the barren hills. So far it only covers a third of the 540-kilometer border, leaving plenty of gaps for migrants to slip across in the dead of night.

Traffic on this key migration route from central Asia to Europe has remained relatively stable compared to previous years. But European countries, as well as Turkey, fear the sudden return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan could change that.

Haunted by a 2015 migration crisis fueled by the Syrian war, European leaders desperately want to avoid another large-scale influx of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan. Except for those who helped Western forces in the country’s two-decade war, the message to Afghans considering fleeing to Europe is: If you must leave, go to neighboring countries, but don’t come here.

“It must be our goal to keep the majority of the people in the region,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said this week, echoing what many European leaders say.

European Union officials told a meeting of interior ministers this week that the most important lesson from 2015 was not to leave Afghans to their own devices, and that without urgent humanitarian help they will start moving, according to a confidential German diplomatic memo obtained by The Associated Press.

Austria, among the EU’s migration hard-liners, suggested setting up “deportation centers” in countries neighboring Afghanistan so that EU countries can deport Afghans who have been denied asylum even if they cannot be sent back to their homeland.

The desperate scenes of people clinging to aircraft taking off from Kabul’s airport have only deepened Europe’s anxiety over a potential refugee crisis. The U.S. and its NATO allies are scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who fear they’ll be punished by the Taliban for having worked with Western forces. But other Afghans are unlikely to get the same welcome.

Even Germany, which since 2015 has admitted more Syrians than any other Western nation, is sending a different signal today.

Several German politicians, including Armin Laschet, the center-right Union bloc’s candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, warned last week that there must be “no repeat” of the migration crisis of 2015.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that, “Europe alone cannot shoulder the consequences” of the situation in Afghanistan and “must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows.”

Britain, which left the EU in 2020, said it would welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and resettle a total of 20,000 in coming years.  - AP