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A person holds a placard during a rally against deportations to Afghanistan on January 12, 2021 in an airport in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo: Ying Tang/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A person holds a placard during a rally against deportations to Afghanistan on January 12, 2021 in an airport in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo: Ying Tang/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

'It Should Be Unthinkable': EU Nations Told to Immediately End Deportations to Afghanistan

"The situation is growing increasingly untenable for civilians, who are at an ever-increasing risk of being caught in the crossfire," said the International Rescue Committee's director for Afghanistan.

Kenny Stancil

As Taliban insurgents continue to capture provinces throughout Afghanistan en route to the capital city of Kabul, the International Rescue Committee on Thursday urged all countries in the European Union to stop deporting Afghan asylum-seekers to the embattled Central Asian nation.

"E.U. countries should re-examine all final negative decisions for Afghan asylum-seekers still present in European countries in light of the current situation and the very real risk of future persecution."
—IRC

The IRC applauded the Netherlands and Germany for announcing Wednesday that they would suspend deportations to Afghanistan, describing the decision to reverse their previous positions as "an encouraging development."

A handful of European countries—including France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland—had already declared a moratorium on expulsions to Afghanistan. However, other European nations—including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, and Greece—are still calling for the forced return of Afghan citizens whose applications for asylum have been denied.

As Vicki Aken, IRC country director for Afghanistan, said in a statement: "The situation is growing increasingly untenable for civilians, who are at an ever-increasing risk of being caught in the crossfire. Already this year, civilian casualties have dramatically increased, with an 80% increase in casualties compared to the first six months of 2020. Women and children are increasingly bearing the brunt of this violence; Afghanistan has been the deadliest place for children for the past six years."

"In other words," said Aken, "now is not the time to even be contemplating deportation to Afghanistan. Instead, leaders should focus on doubling efforts to mitigate the humanitarian crisis that is being witnessed. They should use their power to push for peace negotiations and to increase humanitarian assistance, rather than prioritize the return of people into active conflict."

Noting that the Afghan government asked European countries in July to stop deporting people to Afghanistan for at least three months, the IRC made clear that "any return at this time puts people's lives and wellbeing in grave danger."

According to the IRC, "Afghanistan is currently experiencing one of the fastest-growing humanitarian crises in the world," with roughly 18.4 million people—about half the country's population—currently in need of assistance. Approximately 400,000 people have been internally displaced this year, and if civilian casualties continue to increase, "2021 is likely to be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians in over a decade."

"It remains critical," the organization stressed, "that all member states immediately halt deportations to the war-torn country."

In the words of Niamh Nic Carthaigh, IRC director of E.U. policy and advocacy, "It should be unthinkable for any E.U. country to continue returning people back to Afghanistan—a country facing escalating conflict and humanitarian catastrophe, where their lives are clearly in grave danger."

"This year, the E.U. has boosted its aid commitment to the United Nations' Humanitarian Response Plan in Afghanistan by 12% in recognition of the increasingly dire situation unfolding in the country," said Nic Carthaigh. "Now it's time for its approach to migration to follow suit."

"It should be unthinkable for any E.U. country to continue returning people back to Afghanistan—a country facing escalating conflict and humanitarian catastrophe, where their lives are clearly in grave danger."
—Niamh Nic Carthaigh, IRC

The IRC called it "imperative that the E.U. border agency, Frontex, ensures the suspension of charter flights for return operations to Afghanistan."

"Meanwhile," the organization added, "E.U. countries should re-examine all final negative decisions for Afghan asylum-seekers still present in European countries in light of the current situation and the very real risk of future persecution. The E.U. must also increase resettlement of vulnerable Afghan refugees from the region, so that people have a lifeline to safety and neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan do not shoulder the protection responsibilities alone."

In addition to "urgently scal[ing] up refugee resettlement to support vulnerable Afghans trapped in the region," Nic Carthaigh said the E.U must ensure that "the small proportion who reach Europe in search of safety are protected and their rights upheld."

The IRC's plea came amid reports that the Pentagon is sending around 3,000 combat troops to Afghanistan to assist with the evacuation of some staff at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The U.S. State Department is also reportedly planning to conduct daily flights to pull out Afghan interpreters and others who helped the U.S. following its 2001 invasion.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday that the U.S. is "aiming to facilitate the reduction of these civilian personnel by August 31," to coincide with the troop withdrawal deadline announced by President Joe Biden.

According to recent studies, the past two decades of military operations in Afghanistan have caused more than 241,000 deaths and cost U.S. taxpayers $2.26 trillion.

Mary Hladky of Military Families Speak Out argued in April that "twenty years of war and U.S. interference have brought no long-term, positive gains in Afghanistan."

The IRC on Thursday also urged E.U. member states to "use their full diplomatic, political, and funding power to prevent a further escalation of violence inside Afghanistan."

The E.U. "should push for inclusive peace negotiations and increase humanitarian assistance, not only within Afghanistan, but also to countries in the region," the organization said.


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