The EU is bracing for an influx of Afghans seeking asylum, whether or not people flee in large numbers from the new Taliban government, according to the head of the EU border agency, noting that millions are already displaced in neighbouring countries.
Fabrice Leggeri, director-general of border agency Frontex, told newsmen in an interview that the agency was preparing for a possible surge, both through traditional routes like Turkey to Greece and new routes like Belarus, which Brussels accuses of sending illegal migrants across the border.
Frontex is “monitoring what’s going on” in Afghanistan, but it’s also keeping an eye on Afghan communities in neighbouring countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, he said.
“Our expectation is that depending on what’s going on in Afghanistan of course people in need of international protection might try to flee from Afghanistan. But what will very likely happen first is that the Afghan communities living abroad might try to move to the European Union.”
Following a crisis in 2015-2016, when over a million people arrived, the EU sought to reform its migration system, with the majority crossing the Balkans on foot to reach northern Europe.
According to Leggeri, the EU is now better at returning migrants who do not have a valid asylum claim to their country of origin.
As long as it is risky to send Afghans home, migrants from other countries may be tempted to impersonate Afghans in order to gain entry. According to Leggeri, border guards are better at determining where people are from now than they were six years ago.
“Now you cannot return Afghan people to Afghanistan. Of course, we cannot. But we can return people who pretend they are Afghani people and they are not,” he said while adding that experts now stationed at the EU’s external borders can determine a person’s nationality by listening for dialects and ways of speaking.
Afghan migration could become entangled in Europe’s dispute with Belarus, which the EU accuses of flying in migrants from the Middle East and sending them illegally across the border, resulting in a 1,500% increase in irregular arrivals into Lithuania.
Minsk denies encouraging illegal migration but insists that Europe must lift sanctions if it wants it to stop.
“What happened with Belarus clearly opened the eyes of everybody. The way of pushing in migrants deliberately…Criminal networks want to make money but state organizations, want to deal with geopolitics and this is another story.”
“It depends on geopolitical factors whether lets say, the crisis in Afghanistan from a migration perspective might be linked to the crisis we have in Belarus,” Leggeri said.