EU’s and Afghanistan’s Joint Way Forward – A Return Trip for Afghan Migrants

Picture taken by European External Action Service

At this week’s EU-Afghanistan donor conference (3 to 4 October) over 70 countries and 20 international organisations and agencies came together in Brussels to discuss Afghanistan’s development.  Although political cooperation and financial support were the main focus of the conference, the gathering was gathering controversy months ahead due to a leaked file published by the Guardian in March 2016. The document revealed the EU’s plans to make assistance “migration sensitive” and required a commitment by Afghanistan to readmit an unlimited number of Afghan citizens that were not granted asylum in Europe.

High Representative of the EU and Vice-President Federica Mogherini of the European Commission emphasized that the issue of migration was not topic of the conference and denied, speaking on behalf of the EU, that there would be a “[… ] conditionality link between our development aid and whatever we do on migration […]”.

Nonetheless, the EU and Afghanistan agreed to intensify their corporation in addressing and preventing irregular migration, including the return of irregular migrants, in their Declaration “EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward on migration issues” which was signed two days ahead of the conference. While this agreement is not a condition for the donations promised, experts question whether Afghanistan was given a real choice since it is highly dependent on foreign aid. Liza Schuster, a Kabul-based migration expert, stated in The Guardian that there was a lack of transparency in the negotiation process and deems the approach of the EU a pressure tactic that allows developed countries to push forward their agenda.

According to the declaration, the EU promises to facilitate a safe return process and give reintegration assistance while the Government of Afghanistan commits to take necessary measures to sensitize its citizens to the dangers of irregular migrations and to discourage attempts to leave. The previously leaked file included further suggestion to intensify cooperation with Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to prevent further secondary movements to the EU. The official declaration does not include such a commitment. However, dialogues are still ongoing and similar deals are known to be under discussion with other countries such as Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Lebanon and Libya, as well as Eritrea and Sudan in order to contain irregular migration.

Despite this agreement, the United Nations recognises the situation in Afghanistan as increasingly difficult and expressed their deep concern about the record numbers of civilian casualties and growing numbers of people forced from their homes. The severity of this situation was again highlighted by another assault of the Taliban on the provincial capital Kunduz which happened simultaneously with the beginning of the conference.

The media actor Euroactiv is especially concerned about the widespread violence against children, reporting the highest level of violence in 2015 with a further increase in the first six months of 2016. According to Euroactiv, one in three casualties was a child, stating furthermore that child recruitment for suicide attacks by police forces and the Taliban increased by 100% in 2015 compared to the previous year. The EU’s and Afghanistan’s strategy of the “Joint Way Forward” could lead to a further increase of this number, fostered by the desperation of recently deported migrants that see the Taliban as a possibility to escape destitution.  According to Schuster, this could worsen the situation and lead to missing the target of supporting stabilisation and security of Afghanistan – a topic was given great attention during this conference.