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Barry Andrews: The international community must come together to help those fleeing Afghanistan

The MEP says the EU must reach an agreement on a solidarity mechanism to help Afghan refugees.

Barry Andrews MEP for Dublin

THE EU’S TOP diplomat, High Representative Josep Borrell, described it at a European Parliament committee meeting as simply a “catastrophe”. 

The images shown around the world this week captured the terrifyingly swift collapse of the Afghan government, the panic of the crowds storming Kabul airport and the general sense of helplessness as innocent men, women and children lost their lives.

Nevertheless, much of the coverage, especially that coming from some of our fellow EU member states, has focused on a potential migration crisis, which could buffet Europe in the coming weeks.

Framing this crisis as a security issue would be a fatal mistake. I firmly believe that the international community must come together to protect those fleeing persecution and the European Union should provide global leadership in this regard.

According to international law, the definition of a refugee is having a well-founded fear of persecution. There is no greater demonstration of this than people clinging to the wheel of a moving aeroplane.

The crisis that we have witnessed explode over the last number of days and weeks is a tragedy that will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans.

The EU and its member states must renew efforts to reach an agreement around a solidarity mechanism, in line with current proposals on the Pact on Migration and Asylum, in order to ensure a united European response to any potential upcoming refugee crisis.

Fortunately, if the EU and its member states fail to achieve this, there is already the 2001 Temporary Protection Directive in place.

We have the ability

The Directive was the EU’s concrete response to the need for special procedures to deal with mass influxes of displaced persons. The 1990s saw a wave of migration from the Western Balkans as successive conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, in Kosovo and elsewhere forced millions to leave their homes.

Temporary protection is an exceptional measure to provide immediate and temporary shelter to displaced persons from non-EU countries and those unable to return to their country of origin. It applies when there is a risk that the standard asylum system is struggling to cope with demand stemming from a mass influx. However, 20 years on, the Directive has still never been triggered.

It has faced two main problems. The first is that the existence of a ‘mass influx’ of displaced persons is something that has to be agreed on by a qualified majority of member states and the European Commission, something easier said than done when it comes to sensitive topics like migration.

Second, the provisions contained in this Directive require solidarity between EU states. Borrell has promised that he will highlight the potential of the Temporary Protection Directive at the next European Council, welcome news for all those who see this as a humanitarian tragedy.

The military spend argument

Some of my colleagues in the European Parliament have sought to cast this tragedy in terms of a military defeat, which merits the development of a European army or increased European defence spending. I do not believe this is the correct response.

If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown anything, increased military spending does not lead to peace or greater stability. One Belgian MEP described it as the “powerlessness of power”. Instead, the well-being of the Afghan people must be our priority.

As well as a moral obligation towards refugees, there is a need to minimise stress on European democracies and EU countries must work to share the burden with fellow EU border states who should not be left isolated in dealing with this challenge.

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Solidarity and agreement in the face of this crisis are urgently required from the EU in order to protect Afghan lives. As such, strong consideration should be given to an inaugural use of the Temporary Protection Directive.

Barry Andrews is a Fianna Fáil MEP representing the Dublin Constituency. He is a member Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament and is a member of the Development Committee (DEVE) in the European Parliament. 

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About the author:

Barry Andrews  / MEP for Dublin

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