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Greece, Europe Brace for Afghan Refugee Influx

Afghan refugees
Afghan refugees flee Kabul inside US Air Force C-17. Credit: Facebook/US Air Force

Greece and Europe are preparing for an influx of Afghan refugees as more are expected to flee the country following Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban.

Thousands of Afghans rushed to the capital’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in hope of fleeing, but many were were left behind.

The Taliban have already started enforcing their rule in the capital city of Kabul, with most of its five million residents staying locked in their homes in fear.

Afghan women are in danger of mass enforced “marriage” — amounting to sexual slavery — to Taliban militants.

A mass exodus of Afghan civilians is likely to take place in the next few weeks.

The Greek government has warned the European Commission that the Greek islands will likely become the entryway for hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that since May, when international troops started withdrawing from Afghanistan, about 30,000 Afghans are fleeing the country weekly.

The UNHCR estimates that 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year.

The United States said it will take in 30,000 Afghan refugees, while Canada has said it will resettle 20,000.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on countries to take in Afghan refugees as their country falls yet again to the Islamic militants.

“As the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart, I urge all countries to be willing to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from deportations,” Guterres tweeted.

“Afghans have known generations of war and hardship. They deserve our full support,” he wrote.

Greece “will not be a gateway for a new wave of refugees”

In rebuttal, however, Greece’s Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, declared on Monday that “It is clear that our country will not be a gateway for a new wave of refugees.”

Mitarakis spoke on Open television following developments in the Asian country and the likeliness of an influx of Afghan refugees to Greece via Turkey.

“In the last 12 months we have shown in practice that we know how to guard our borders and the reduction of flows has reached 96 percent,” he said.

“We have only 4,500 arrivals in 2021 compared to 15,000 last year and 72,000 in 2019, so it is clear that we are fully prepared to protect our borders,” the Minister stated.

“Two months ago, Greece, on the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Immigration, described Turkey as a safe country for Afghans,” the Minister added.

Mitarakis said that the new refugee flows from Afghanistan will arrive in Turkey first; the issue is now how Ankara will respond and what the attitude of the EU toward Turkey on the issue will be.

“Beyond that, it is a matter for the European Union to strengthen the joint declaration of 2016, but also to support Turkey, which as a neighboring country will face more pressure than the rest of Europe,” Mitarakis pointed out.

“I remind you that when the Geneva Convention speaks of refugees, it speaks of people who go directly to a neighboring country — not to another continent,” the Minister of Immigration stressed.

Asked to estimate how many new refugees from Afghanistan might arrive in Greece, he spoke of “a very small number of arrivals.”

“Never again do we want to see what we experienced in 2015,” Mitarakis declared.

European countries draft plans for Afghan refugee resettlement

According to Euronews, citing a European Commission spokesperson, in the first half of 2021 around 3,200 irregular border crossings by Afghan nationals were reported along the EU’s external borders.

However, after the situation in Afghanistan worsened dramatically over the past several days, it is likely that a new influx of Afghan refugees is expected.

The BBC reported that the UK is in the process of drafting a plan to take in refugees from Afghanistan, similar to its 2014 Syrian refugee resettlement program for 20,000 people.

European countries, including Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and France have suspended the deportations of Afghan refugees in their countries, according to The Guardian.

It has not yet been decided if some or all of these countries will allow the permanent resettlement of new Afghan refugees.

Denmark became the first EU country to offer Afghan migrants it had employed in the country a residency permit.

The U.S. asked Albania and Kosovo to temporarily host Afghans seeking entry to their  countries, with the two countries responding positively, The Guardian reported.

North Macedonia also said that the country will accept Afghan civilians until “a more permanent solution” is found, according to the Balkan Times.

“We, as a government, have informed our strategic partners, the United States, that we remain available to assist according to our capabilities and needs,” Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said.

 

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