Will the Taliban victory in Afghanistan give way to a new wave of refugees in Europe?

17 August, 2021

Kabul airport yesterday. Will the Taliban triumph usher in a new wave of refugees?
Kabul airport yesterday. Will the Taliban triumph usher in a new wave of refugees?

The horrific scenes of despair at Kabul airport yesterday have been sending shockwaves around the world. While delegations from more than sixty countries are still waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan, the eventual arrival in Europe of a new wave of refugees has become the focus of the German election campaign and the French political agenda; the Austrian government is asking the EU to create concentration camps for the arriving refugees; Latvia vows to organize mass deportations for those arriving via Russia; and Greece proposes to pay Turkey more in order for it to hold refugees. But will a wave of refugees really arrive? Who will be allowed in and who will be turned away?

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The rawest classism, a new explicit European refugee policy

Afghan refugees wait on the Iranian side of the border to enter Turkey
Afghan refugees wait on the Iranian side of the border to enter Turkey

In Germany this morning, Annalena Baerbock, the Green candidate, tried to wriggle out of questions about how to deal with a possible Afghan “refugee wave,” fearing that being too “permissive” would take votes away from her. She is accompanied by Joshka Fischer, former star of the German 68, founder of the party and the foreign minister of the government which approved the German military intervention in Afghanistan in support of the United States.

The two Green politicians, along with almost all German parties, tried to restrict their message to the need to evacuate now the 10,000 Afghans who have worked with the military and NGOs sent by the Berlin government…. while negotiating through the EU a joint position on the alleged wave of refugees that would be already on its way. But what position would that be? In his message to the nation yesterday Macron gave more than just hints.

Many Afghans, human rights defenders, artists, journalists, activists, are today threatened because of their commitment. We will help them because it is an honor for France to be at the side of those who share our values.

And the refugees who are neither artists nor politicians who are fleeing from the murders of civilians which accompanied the Taliban advance? Macron claimed to have met with Merkel to launch “an initiative to build without delay a solid and coordinated response” against… “irregular migratory flows”.

In other words, the EU will provide safe haven to the Afghan bourgeoisie who collaborated with the international occupiers, many of whom have substantial bank accounts on the continent.

An interview with the director general of the French Office of Immigration and Integration published this morning unambiguously rehashed this idea of restricting refuge to the ruling classes. Moreover it suggested the idea that France should compete with countries where English is in common professional use for refugees from “the elites”… and reject the “unskilled.”

Once again, the question arises as to what attitude those who have the most to lose will adopt, in particular the middle and upper classes, women who have benefited from educational programs and who are magistrates, journalists, etc.

Which country will they head for? My feeling is that, just as the Syrian social elites have turned to the countries that seemed more favorable to them from the point of view of their socio-economic integration, we will certainly have the same phenomenon. The difficulty for France is to find itself in the situation of being the country to which only those who could not go elsewhere because of their low qualification would go. Today, 90% of our Afghan asylum seekers are mostly young, unskilled men. The qualified ones did not choose us.

Will the refugee wave hit a Turkish wall?

Turkish Defense Minister with top military command directs yesterday's reinforcement of the border with Iran to prevent the arrival of a wave of Afghan refugees
Turkish Defense Minister with top military command directs yesterday’s reinforcement of the border with Iran to prevent the arrival of a wave of Afghan refugees

What will happen to this wave of “unskilled” refugees, young workers and peasants fleeing the Taliban massacres? Macron, in his speech, could not be more explicit: let others provide them with shelter.

Europe alone cannot take responsibility for the consequences of the current situation. We must anticipate and protect ourselves from significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger those who use them and fuel trafficking of all kinds

And among those others, Turkey seems to be at the top of the Europeans’ list. Greece has long been advocating in Brussels negotiating with Ankara to absorb or stop the expected wave of Afghan refugees in exchange for new subsidies.

And indeed Turkey seems to be the one in charge of “turning off the lights” by guarding NATO’s withdrawal: it stands in Afghanistan as a “non-combatant power”, its soldiers are being tasked with maintaining control of Kabul airport during evacuations and it already has 120,000 Afghan refugees on its soil.

But this time Ankara does not have the perspective it had in Syria. To put it bluntly: Afghanistan is far away, Turkey has no territorial prospects there and therefore does not plan to use refugees as a quasi-free labor force in border sweatshops. That’s why it wants to avoid a new wave of migration that would end up on its soil and knows that the only way to achieve this is to wrest from the Taliban the promise that the massacres will stop… at least temporarily.

But the point is, as much as Erdogan has been trying for a month to negotiate face-to-face with the Taliban, the Taliban leadership makes no diplomatic distinction between combatant and non-combatant occupiers, and demands that Turkish troops leave along with the rest of the NATO missions.

Underneath the Taliban intransigence lies Pakistan, imperialist godfather of the Taliban since their birth, which has sent its foreign minister to Ankara the day before yesterday to convince Erdogan of a quick and discreet Turkish withdrawal. The Islamabad government seems willing even to recognize the Turkish Republic of Cyprus as an incentive… but by no means to negotiate political terms.

This being the case, hundreds of thousands of Afghans will most likely flee into Iran. The point is that Iran, which already has nearly three million Afghan refugees on its soil, instead of preparing to take in more, is pushing out the Afghan refugees it already holds. And most of them, evidently, do not want to return to face the Taliban. The result is that the exodus of Afghan refugees from Iran to Turkey has already begun, and the new arrivals will be urged to do the same.

The Turkish response? Mobilize the army as If an invasion were coming and build a wall along the 534km border with Iran.

Will the wave of refugees reach Europe?

Turkey, village bordering Iran. Graves of Afghan refugees killed during this year trying to enter Turkey from Iran. The expected wave of refugees will leave many more fatalities.
Turkey, village bordering Iran. Graves of Afghan refugees killed during this year trying to enter Turkey from Iran. The expected wave of refugees will leave many more fatalities.

The villages along Turkey’s border with Iran are littered with anonymous graves, identified only by a number and the approximate date of death. In them rest the remains of thousands of Afghan refugees who have already died trying to enter the country. Those who have managed to survive endure, without humanitarian aid or anything like it, in destitute conditions.

No matter how freely Iran lets them pass through its territory, what awaits the Afghan refugees is daunting. The vast majority of them will not make it to safety. Perhaps a few thousand will reach Turkey and of those only a few will reach Europe. This is no secret. The governments and even the German press know it: Europe is not going to get any wave of refugees equivalent to that of 2015.

So why is there so much political noise in the EU? Why so much presidential talk and so many inhuman proposals such as the Austrian one?

First of all to dilute NATO’s biggest failure throughout its history and obscure the fact that Biden unilaterally decided to withdraw without even accounting for British and European evacuation times. Although Germans and British have been quite explicit about this, they know that letting the debate focus on the obvious will weaken their ability to frame opinion at home on future armed conflicts outside the continent articulated within the NATO framework.

Secondly, yesterday’s images in Kabul have produced a general feeling of shock and spread a desire for solidarity. The ruling class does not want that feeling to end up highlighting or questioning the criminal and repressive development of the European asylum policy consolidated in recent months. The classist twist, presenting as refugees a few thousand artists, feminists, NGO leaders and politicians, selected among the Afghan bourgeoisie, serves to whitewash their own policies while, like Macron, they classify persecuted workers and peasants as “illegal migrants.”

Read also: Refugees: the new policies show the EU's lies and hypocrisy. 17/7/2021