Migrations and European fears
The Afghan crisis has placed the problem of immigration again at the center of European discussions. In essence, it is the fear that thousands and thousands of people coming from Afghanistan will arrive in Europe, pushed to migrate for a combination of reasons: the flight from the Taliban regime, the economic misery, the lack of future prospects and the attraction that richer societies exert on those who live a daily life of despair and constant struggle for survival. Faced with this fear, the European ministers have identified the lowest common denominator as a plan of action: to try to contain the people within Afghanistan's borders or in the bordering countries. To do so, they are counting on the cooperation of the new Afghan power, the self-interested will of the Pakistani and Iranian leaders, and the experience and good name of the UN humanitarian agencies and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Swiss Peter Maurer, was in Afghanistan this week for three days for discussions with the Taliban leadership and field visits. Also, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the British Martin Griffiths, visited Kabul to meet with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, now Deputy Prime Minister, and to obtain minimum assurances necessary for the acceptable delivery of humanitarian aid. These rounds of contacts have gone well, and the EU is likely to be the main source of resources for these organizations to do what is expected of them.
However, many Afghans will end up seeking refuge outside their national borders, particularly in Pakistan. It is not clear how many Afghan refugees were already living in Pakistan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially registers 1.4 million people. But there is a multitude outside the records. It is estimated that since August 15, the day Kabul fell, about 10,000 people a day are crossing the border into Pakistan. This flow will possibly increase because of the political, economic and social situation now in Afghanistan. A significant portion of these new refugees will seek to reach Europe.
Pakistan does not have the economic and institutional conditions necessary to host a new wave of refugees. It needs international support. The Pakistani ruling class knows how to operate. It will ask Europeans for material aid and political favours. It is not that it needs much political support, as it already has the full backing of the Chinese. Still, it will let the Europeans know that its willingness to provide humanitarian reception will be stronger if there is, in return, a cooling - even if discreet - of relations between the EU and India. In this geostrategic game, New Delhi stands a good chance of losing.
In the case of Iran, it is a different story. Relations between Europe and Iran are affected by two types of constraints: the lack of agreement on the limits of Iran's nuclear program and the sanctions and restrictions imposed by the Americans, which the Europeans are not capable of challenging. Despite all this, I maintain that Europe cannot exclude Iran from the humanitarian process. Even more so if we take into account that most of the migratory routes pass through that country. What will Tehran ask in exchange for a collaboration that will prevent the transit of human masses? This question cannot be ignored.
The different European states are willing to welcome those who have worked directly with their military forces. But they have no intention of going any further. The usual Viktor Orbán and company are now joined by a new star, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. And the social networks are already full of catastrophic theories about the impact that an increase in the proportion of Muslims in European lands would have. Not to mention, they say, the possible dangers of terrorist attacks. The reality is that here in the EU, as in other parts of the world, questions of cultural identity are increasingly at the centre of the political agenda.
(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 10 September 2021)