Johnson Urges Allies to Help Stop Afghan Humanitarian Crisis
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson said the U.K. will honor its “enduring commitment” to the people of Afghanistan by accepting 20,000 refugees, and called for international cooperation to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Speaking at an emergency session of Parliament on Wednesday, Johnson said his government’s “immediate focus” is the evacuation of British nationals and local support staff, noting that the situation has “stabilized” since the weekend and that the Taliban are allowing those efforts to proceed.
Yet he also warned of an unfolding crisis under the Taliban, and called for a new United Nations-led mission to the region. The British prime minister welcomed the support of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and announced a doubling of U.K. aid committed to Afghanistan this year to 286 million pounds ($394 million).
“The bulk of the effort of this country will be directed and should be directed to supporting people in Afghanistan and in the region, in order to prevent a worse humanitarian crisis,” Johnson told members of Parliament. “We have an enduring commitment to all the Afghan people, and now, more than ever, we must reaffirm that commitment.”
The rapid takeover by the Taliban has fueled fears of a sudden exodus of Afghans seeking asylum -- a politically thorny issue in the U.K., as well as across the European Union and nations bordering Afghanistan. Both Germany and France hold general elections next month and next year respectively, potentially making any discussion of quotas especially charged.
In the U.K., the prime minister is also trying to stave off criticism, including from within his own Conservative Party, that his government failed to plan the evacuation properly and that it failed to predict the sudden collapse of the Afghan government as U.S. troops pulled out of the country.
The U.K. announced a “bespoke” resettlement program will take in 5,000 Afghans this year and 20,000 in the longer-term. The program will focus on “the most vulnerable, particularly women and children,” the prime minister told the House of Commons.
It comes on top of the 5,000 current or former locally-employed Afghan staff and their family members who the U.K. expects to relocate by the end of this year under a separate program.
Yet there are already signs the Afghanistan crisis could trigger renewed international tensions over refugees.
Home Secretary Priti Patel wrote in the Telegraph newspaper the U.K. is “doing all it can to encourage other countries to help,” adding pointedly: “We cannot do this alone.” Patel led talks with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance -- comprising the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. -- on providing a safe way for people to leave Afghanistan.
The EU has long struggled to come up with a unified stance on accepting refugees, especially after the 2015 crisis in Syria, and there remain huge differences among member states on the issue.
Both Macron and Merkel stressed they want to contain any Afghanistan refugee crisis in the immediate region as far as possible.
The priority should be on providing safe options for refugees in countries bordering Afghanistan, before considering who should be eligible for coming to Europe, Merkel said on Tuesday.
“It’s a weak point for the European Union that we haven’t established a unified asylum policy,” Merkel said. “We need to continue to work on this urgently.”
The EU will support Afghanistan’s neighbors in coping with “negative spill overs,” which are to be expected from an increasing number of refugees and migrants, Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative, told reporters after a meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday.
An early indication of the potential for disruption is in the EU boundary states of Lithuania, Poland and Latvia, which share a border with Belarus. Belarusian authorities are pushing migrants arriving from the Middle East and Asia to try to enter the bloc, and Poland has sent 900 troops to the region.
Meeting Wednesday to try to resolve the issue, EU interior ministers rejected Belarus’s use of refugees for political causes, expressed solidarity with affected states and vowed to strengthen external border controls.
“Due to the rapidly changing situation on the ground, Lithuania needs additional assistance, as do Latvia and Poland,” said Ales Hojs, interior minister of Slovenia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
Macron this week warned that the Taliban victory is likely to propel a substantial flow of migrants toward Europe. This must be tackled, he said, via a united European response and by trying to contain the flow in transit countries, such as Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.
“Europe cannot alone confront the consequences of the present situation,” he said. “We must anticipate and protect against substantial, irregular flows of migrants which would endanger those involved and foster all sorts of trafficking.”
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