The Internation Rescue Committee (IRC) have released a report — ‘Two years on: Afghans still lack pathways to safety in the EU’ — highlighting the failings in the support and protection of Afghan refugees since 2021.
The conditions in Afghanistan are still very bleak. Almost 20 million Afghans are acutely food insecure, the rights of women and girls are highly limited, and due to socio-economic collapse those who remain in the country are living in extreme conditions. Afghan refugees are now the third largest refugee population, with over 1.6 million Afghans fleeing to neighbouring countries since 2021.
Neighbouring countries where Afghans have fled to, such as Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan are also struggling with political, economic, and environmental issues that are leaving vulnerable communities, such as Afghan refugees, in precarious circumstances. In addition, in Turkey, for instance, Are You Syrious have previously reported on the limited access to healthcare, education, legal support and welfare for Afghan refugees. Some neighbouring countries have also increased security at their borders to prevent Afghans from entering the country, as well as forcibly returning them.
European countries responded to the Taliban takeover by establishing initiatives, schemes and pathways to support Afghans in fleeing Afghanistan and seeking protection. Whilst there was a welcoming intention, many of these schemes have failed miserably, with a very low proportion of Afghans being resettled in the EU. Many remain in temporary accommodation, with limited access to support and often experiencing discrimination and poverty, whilst others are still stranded in transit due to the lack of safe pathways.
These challenges do not end once Afghans reach Europe in search of safety. Asylum seekers and refugees often face the threat of pushbacks or forcible returns — with Afghan nationals most commonly reporting these violent practices; barriers to fair and full asylum procedures; and long periods in undignified, detention-like centres upon arrival. These policies of containment have devastating effects: 92% of Afghans supported by the IRC’s mental health teams in Greece experienced symptoms of anxiety, and 86% of depression, in the year up to March 2023.
Differing asylum procedures have resulted in inconsistencies in the implementation of protection. InfoMigrants reports on the fact that in Belgium, there is now very little protection for Afghan minors. Unlike in many other European countries, minors arriving in Belgium go through the exact same asylum process as an adult. If their asylum application is not accepted, they are not deported (as children cannot be deported in Europe) but they are not provided with any guaranteed support or shelter. For Afghans, this is particularly concerning, as Afghanistan is now no longer seen as a country in war, so Afghans are less likely to have their asylum application accepted.
“From now on, asylum is only granted to a small category of unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan: Those who arrived at a very young age in Belgium or those suffering from serious trauma,”
— Clément Valentin, advocacy officer at CIRÉ (Coordination et initiatives pour réfugiés et étrangers, Coordination and initiatives for refugees and foreigners)
The IRC calls for:
- An urgent expansion of safe pathways to Europe
- Access to asylum, dignified reception, and lasting inclusion in the EU
- A better system for all
This article first appeared in Are You Syrious?
Image: IRNA News Agency