European Parliament censures EU home affairs ministers for ‘selfish, short-sighted and irrational’ response to Afghanistan situation

MEP reaction to ministers' focus on mitigating potential 'illegal migration', overwhelmingly critical, ranging from disappointment to anger and despair
EP Audiovisual

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

06 Sep 2021

Parliament’s reaction to the statement, published by EU Home Affairs last week, has been overwhelmingly critical, ranging from disappointment to anger and despair

European Parliament President David Sassoli, speaking at the Bled Strategic Forum last week, said he was “very disappointed” with the Home Affairs Council (JHA) conclusions, adding that while there were countries outside the European Union who had come forward to welcome Afghan asylum seekers, “we have not seen a single member country do the same.”

“Everyone rightly thought of those who worked with them and their families, but none had the courage to offer refuge to those whose lives are still in danger today.”

Sassoli concluded “we cannot pretend that the Afghan question does not concern us, because we participated in that mission by sharing its objectives and aims.”

Late last week, several committees discussed the crisis in Afghanistan from their respective angles, and it was perhaps no surprise that some of the most heartfelt and passionate comments came from female MEPs, with women in Afghanistan now facing the oppressive and brutally misogynistic Taliban regime.

The chair of Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROIT), Maria Arena, stressed the necessity of “effective solidarity among Member States” when it comes to refugees from Afghanistan, but that was “not the message we received from EU interior ministers”.

The Belgian socialist MEP also reminded the room that the EU is bound by the Geneva Convention on refugees from war zones while Pakistan and Iran, likely to see the bulk of migration from Afghanistan, as non-signatories, are not, and thus unlikely to provide a full solution based on European values to the crisis.

“We cannot pretend that the Afghan question does not concern us, because we participated in that mission by sharing its objectives and aims” European Parliament President David Sassoli

Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik called the JHA statement “shameful, disgraceful”, and displaying a “selfish, short-sighted and irrational” approach, while her liberal fellow countrywomen Sophie in ‘T Veld made a passionate intervention along the same lines, criticising the Home Affairs ministers’ statement for using the term “illegal migration”, rather than “irregular”.

She added, “refugees are not criminals, they’re not doing something illegal. And then I read that ‘incentives for illegal migration should be avoided’, in other words, the ‘pull-factor’. Seriously? Looking at the refugees coming from Afghanistan? Pulled by what? There is only a push-factor.”

Portuguese socialist MEP Isabel Santos also condemned the JHA statement saying, “What we need to think about now is not how to protect borders but how to protect lives. We are talking about people who are our partners in Afghanistan.”

At the beginning of the debate, the Committee heard from three experts, the Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific, Paola Pampaloni, the Director-General of the Commission’s DG Migration and Home Affairs, Monique Pariat, and the Secretary-General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), Catherine Woollard.

While DG HOME’s Pariat did stress that “it is our moral responsibility to provide protection for Afghans who need it, and to offer them safe, legal pathways to the EU”, it was Woollard, whose organisation represents 103 NGOs across 39 European countries, who called for the Temporary Protection Directive of 2001 to be activated.

This call was then echoed by many MEPs. Italian non-aligned MEP Laura Ferrara informed the room that she was among 70 members who had signed a letter sent to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative Josep Borrell - who had mentioned the possibility two weeks ago - to activate the directive with immediate effect. Other MEPs pointed out that this decision would not be subject to a veto.  

In her reply, Pariat did repeat the Commission’s commitment to facilitate and coordinate resettlement schemes and urged Member States to make their pledges of resettlement “as high as they possibly can”, a commitment to the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive clearly being above the pay grade of even a DG.

"What we need to think about now is not how to protect borders but how to protect lives. We are talking about people who are our partners in Afghanistan” Portuguese socialist MEP Isabel Santos

When Slovenia’s Interior Minister Ales Hojs appeared before the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee on Thursday to present the Presidency’s priorities, he could hardly have avoided a confrontation about the JHA’s position. In his opening remarks, he defended it as having been reached “unanimously”.

Dutch EPP MEP Jeroen Lenaers asked the minister why no mention of the new Pact on Migration, which the Council is supposed to be working on now was made, adding “how can we trust the Council to make progress on the pact if they can’t even agree to include a simple sentence on this in such a statement.”

He added that the crisis in Afghanistan had only increased the urgency on the Migration Pact and asked the minister to elaborate how the Presidency was going to try to unblock current deadlock. In his response, Hojs acknowledged that the situation had changed and that this needed to be reflected in the work on the pact without offering any more details.

MEPs of all the other centrist and left leaning parties repeated calls to provide for structural solidarity among Member States and in the distribution of refugees, activate the temporary protection directive, and establish humanitarian corridors.

There are questions over whether the Parliament’s EPP grouping wishes to be included in a Parliament-wide resolution at the next plenary session in Strasbourg, which could

See the assembly’s main centre-right political group in the awkward position of having to side with nationalist and far right MEPs.

On Monday, the Women’s Rights Committee (FEMM) and the Human Rights Subcommittee (DROI) will hold a joint discussion about women and girls in Afghanistan.

The head of the EU’s delegation to Afghanistan, Ambassador Andreas Von Brandt is expected to participate in the meeting the debate, as are Shrharzad Akbar, the chair of the Afghan Human Rights Commission and Sahraa Karimi, the president of the Afghan Film Commission.