Should Europe Halt Deportations to Afghanistan After the Departure of U.S. Troops?

The Finnish Immigration Service announced on July 14th that Finland would suspend deportations of Afghan migrants back to their country of origin due to instability in Afghanistan, following the exit of foreign troops. Despite calls from humanitarian organizations to pause the forcible return of Afghan refugees, the European Union has continued to prioritize repatriation in agreements concerning aid sent to Afghanistan. As the fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government continues, and the threat of a Taliban resurgence looms, Finland has reconsidered its previous policies and chose to avoid sending migrants back to the turbulent country.

Host countries for Afghan refugees were asked to provide a three month respite from deportations by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, which expressed that it “does not consider the current situation in the country conducive for the forced return of Afghan migrants until the security situation improves.” However, not all nations agreed to the ministry’s request.

The German government reported that it had no plans to change its deportation policies. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, “Those who do not get a right of residence in Germany should leave our country again.” Germany’s government has said it will consider the proposal after discussion with European partners. Current extenuating circumstances may persuade some European nations to halt their deportations to Afghanistan, although the EU has demonstrated its desire to reduce its Afghan refugee population regardless of recent and ongoing instability. 

In the short term, the departure of U.S. and other foreign troops inaugurates a period marked by increased volatility and insecurity in Afghanistan. For years, Afghan migrants have constituted one of the largest groups of asylum seekers in the world. According to Eurostat asylum statistics, Afghans make up almost 11% of all asylum applicants to the EU. The Taliban is reported to have gained more territory since foreign forces left, and the threat of their oppressive control will motivate larger numbers to flee the country. Apart from military conflict with the Taliban, Afghans are experiencing the effects of food insecurity, climate change induced drought, and a renewed wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Afghanistan is almost completely dependent on foreign development aid for the survival of its economy, and the EU has a history of leveraging their aid to force the return of more migrants in agreements like 2016’s Joint Way Forward. EU members and international organizations have helped fund and develop reintegration programs for rejected asylum seekers, but these and other humanitarian programs are disrupted by the conflict and the Taliban’s presence outside cities. As conditions worsen, more refugees will emerge from Afghanistan. The response of the international community will shape whether this large group is afforded human rights and freedom from violence. 

Neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are also the destination of many Afghan refugees. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Iran and Pakistan host almost 2,400,000 registered Afghan refugees. A larger influx of refugees with strain these nations, as they lack the necessary resources to support and provide essential services to refugees. Poor conditions for refugees, combined with regional pressures, inevitably pushes more Afghan asylum seekers into Europe.

During an unstable time, Afghanistan and other countries in the region do not have the resources to protect returnees’ human rights and provide them dignified living conditions. The EU has a responsibility to avoid sending asylum seekers back into a region mired in conflict, battered by COVID-19, and crippled by climate change. To return immigrants to Afghanistan in the current security situation is to force them into unsafe conditions in which they are unlikely to receive needed resettlement support. In the coming months European nations should properly evaluate the state of the conflict in Afghanistan and grant asylum, at least temporarily, to those who seek stability and safety. In the meantime, they can continue to aid Afghanistan’s development and support peace negotiations in the region to help ease the humanitarian crisis. Increasing funding to refugee programs in Afghanistan’s neighboring countries will also help Afghan migrants while stemming the flow of migrants into Europe. Once the situation stabilizes, Europe can continue developing reintegration programs to safely repatriate Afghans to their home country.