Returns to Afghanistan - Letter to EU Commission

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Margaritis SCHINAS Vice-President of the European Commission 1049 Brussels BELGIUM Ylva JOHANSSON European Commissioner for Home Affairs 1049 Brussels BELGIUM Returns to Afghanistan                                                            5 August 2021 Dear Vice-President of the European Commission Schinas, Dear Commissioner Johansson, We, the Home Affairs / Migration Ministers / State Secretaries of Austria, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Germany would like to take the opportunity to express our concerns about the current developments regarding irregular migration from Afghanistan. Afghanistan for years has been one of the most important countries of origin for the European Union. For example, since 2015 around 570,000 asylum applications were lodged by Afghan nationals in the EU. In 2020 Afghanistan was the second most important country of origin with around 44,000 first time applications. This trend continues in 2021. We also note with concern the high proportion of unaccompanied minors among irregular Afghan arrivals. We fully recognise the sensitive situation in Afghanistan in light of the foreseen withdrawal of international troops. Already an estimated 4.6 million Afghan citizens are currently displaced, many of them in neighbouring countries. It should be our common goal to therefore also provide the best possible support for persons with protection needs in neighbouring countries, also in the light of the intention of the Geneva Convention to offer safety close to the regions of origin. Therefore, we should look into opportunities how to enlarge protection capacities in the region, which will reduce the migration pressure along the route. While many projects and initiatives to support Afghanistan and its neighbouring states are currently implemented, further measures in the region to prepare for a potential influx of Afghan nationals will be necessary. To this end, cooperation with Afghanistan and neighbouring countries including Pakistan and Iran in the areas of migration control, border 1

protection and protection in general should be strengthened. Ideas like a Team Europe Initiative as well as a new “Regional Development and Protection Programme” for Afghanistan and the broader Silk Routes region specifically in the field of migration should be further elaborated. Against this background, Austria has already stated its intention to host a Workshop on Afghanistan for interested Member States and the Commission. In order to continue the “Joint Way Forward”, the Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation/JDMC was signed on 28 April 2021 between Afghanistan and the EU. It reflects the continuation of a shared commitment between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the European Union to step up cooperation on migration management. This Declaration entails the facilitation of dignified, safe and orderly returns of Afghan nationals to Afghanistan who do not fulfil the conditions to stay in the EU. Based on this commitment and as a key pillar of both, the Joint Way Forward (2016-2021) as well as the current JDMC, the EU has developed – in close cooperation with international partners – funding programs to foster voluntary return and support sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan. In parallel, an integral part of a holistic migration management in line with the JDMC is the implementation of enforceable return decisions and the readmission of Afghan nationals by the Government of Afghanistan on a non-voluntary basis. The EU and its Member States are fully committed to continue the cooperation in the framework of the arrangement and to respect the principles of the Declaration. However, on 8 July 2021 the EU Member States received a Note Verbal by the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation informing them about the “decision” to stop forced returns to Afghanistan for a period of three months. We would like to reiterate that the JDMC does not foresee any clause to stop or suspend returns to Afghanistan – any kind of dispute on the interpretation of the arrangement should be settled in the Joint Working Group. Furthermore, there is a general obligation in international law for any country to take back its own nationals. Against this background we request the Commission to engage in an intensified dialogue with Afghan partners on all pressing migration issues including swift and effective return cooperation based on the JDMC. Moreover, we would like to highlight the urgent need to perform returns, both voluntary and non-voluntary, to Afghanistan. In view of the expected likelihood that Afghanistan will continue to be a significant source of irregular migration to the EU, we would like to underline the importance of returning those without genuine protection needs. Furthermore, stopping returns sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU. This is why we urge you and your teams at the Commission to intensify talks with the Afghan government on how returns to Afghanistan can and will continue in the coming months. Finding ways to secure returns to Afghanistan should be a priority for all of us. If concrete offers to the Afghan government are needed, we should not hesitate to come 2

up with proposals how to support Afghanistan in their fight against irregular migration and to stabilize the country. Finally let us highlight that there is a certain group of Afghan nationals in our asylum and migrations systems that need particular attention when it comes to integration challenges. It should therefore be our common interest and utmost priority that especially Afghan nationals who committed serious crimes have to leave the EU. Based on bilateral discussions in recent weeks, we have reason to believe that the Afghan side is willing to compromise in such cases. It would therefore seem advisable to highlight the issue regarding this group of persons during talks with the Afghan authorities. We would like to thank you for your efforts and hope that the Commission and the Member States together can solve this issue of highest priority. Yours sincerely, Mr Karl Nehammer                                   Mr Mattias Tesfaye Federal Minister of the Interior of Austria         Minister for Immigration and Integration of Denmark Mr Panagiotis Mitarachi                              Mr Horst Seehofer Minister of Migration and Asylum of Greece         Federal Minister of the Interior, Building and Community of Germany Mrs Ankie Broekers-Knol                                Mr Sammy Mahdi Minister for Migration of the Netherlands           State Secretary for Asylum and Migration of Belgium 3