EU-Afghanistan returns plan: Another "dodgy" deal

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

- Deal to be signed next week to start immediate refugee "return" flights
- Is Afghanistan a "safe country"?
- Quick return of 80,000 refugees planned
- "effectively implement readmission commitments" - by-passing parliamentary scrutiny 

On 4-5 October there will be an International Conference with 70 countries meeting in Brussels to discuss the future of Afghanistan.

In the "margins" of the Conference there will be the signing of a deal between the EU and the Afghanistan government on the "return" (voluntary and forced) of Afghan refugees who have arrived in the EU in 2015 and 2016. It is estimated that at least 257,000 Afghan refugees are in the EU. [1]

A joint "non-paper" from the European Commission and the European Action Service (EEAS) in March 2016: Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Afghanistan (Restricted do no: 6738-16, pdf) that looked at:

"possible leverages across Commission-EEAS policy areas to enhance returns and effectively implement readmission commitments." [emphasis added]

It concluded that the next steps could be:

"a second High Level Dialogue on Migration in the sidelines of the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan (4-5 October 2016) to maximise the EU leverage" 

Is Afghanistan a "safe country" to return refugees to?

This move is despite the Joint "non-paper" recognition of:

"the worsening security situation and threats to which people are exposed"

and the fact that Afghanistan is suffering:

"record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties".[2]

The "non-paper" asserts that:

"Despite this, more than 80,000 persons could potentially need to be returned in the near future." [emphasis added]

This is despite too recording that:

"The main push factors are: a deteriorating security situation with record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties (over 11,000 civilian casualties recorded in 2015), compounded by a deteriorating economic situation. Both are likely to grow stronger." [emphasis added]

Immediate return flights - voluntary and forced returns

Contrary to the March aim of a holding a second High Level Dialogue during the Brussels Conference next week a second secret document, dated 22 September 2016: Draft Joint Way Forward on migration issues between Afghanistan and the EU - Adoption (LIMITE doc no: 12191-16, 2016, pdf). This says that a "Joint Way Forward" following the "conclusion of the negotiations" the declaration will be "signed" on the EU side prior to the main Conference.

"Afghan nationals who are found to have no legal basis to remain in an EU Member State, whose protection needs or compelling humanitarian reasons, if any, have been considered in accordance with the applicable legislation and who have received an enforceable decision to leave that Member State, can choose to return voluntarily. Afghan nationals who choose not to comply with such a decision on a voluntary basis will be returned to Afghanistan, once administrative and judicial procedures with suspensive effects have been exhausted.

The EU Member States consider granting appropriate time for return under the conditions provided for by applicable laws, taking account of the specific circumstances of the individual case."

Under the EU Returns Directive refugees refusing to be sent back can be held in detention for up to 18 months.

Return flights

The procedure for return flights is as follows:

"To facilitate the return and readmission of Afghan nationals, EU Member States may use scheduled or non-scheduled flights to Kabul airport(in existing designated facilities) and any other specified Afghan airports as mutually agreed, including joint flights returning Afghan nationals from several EU Member States organised and coordinated by Frontex. Both sides will explore the possibility to build a dedicated terminal for return in Kabul airport and express their willingness to carry out non-scheduled flights at the best convenient times. The EU Member States understand that there should be a limitation to the number of non-voluntary returnees to 50 per flight in the first six months following the signature of this declaration.

In case of non-scheduled flights, the EU Member States intend to provide flight data, the maximum number of returnees and personal information of the pool of returnees for each flight three weeks prior to their return date. The EU Member States may have to overbook the flight with persons out of the pool but not exceed the maximum number as previously announced. The EU Member States and Frontex will coordinate their non-scheduled flights with Afghan authorities in order to ensure an  orderly management of returns." [emphasis added]

"Start operations"

"Cooperation will begin on the day this declaration is signed. The declaration provides the framework for cooperation for an initial period of two years. If neither the EU nor Afghanistan announces their intention to discontinue the cooperation on the basis of this declaration thirty (30) days before the end of this period of two years, cooperation on its basis continues for another two years." [emphasis added]

Will there be a public record on what happens to refugee on their return? 

The EU will give:

"Support to IOM for the implementation of activities jointly developed with the Government of Afghanistan related to the reintegration of returnees. Their families and host communities will be also targeted. IOM will focus on activities related to return and reintegration, including addressing immediate economic needs on arrival."

But will there be a public record of the continued safety and well-being of each and every returned refugee?

By-passing the European Parliament: "effectively implement readmission commitments."

The signing of the "Declaration" would start operations for major "return" flights from the EU to Afghanistan into immediate effect. In all but its form it is readmission agreement but the Council and the EEAS are seeking to by-pass the normal procedure of adopting formal agreement which require the consent of the European Parliament - and could take months and the parliament has the power to reject readmission agreements.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director, comments:

"Under the dodgy EU-Turkey deal we have two Letters and a Statement now for the Afghanistan deal there is to be a "Declaration" - yet again by-passing formal law-making and parliamentary scrutiny.

Yet again the Council demonstrates its contempt for the rule of law. There is no way Afghanistan, even in Kabul, is a safe country to return refugees to." [3]


[1] This is almost certainly an underestimate as official and agency records were not fully recording arrivals until the 4th quarter of 2015.

[2] Afghan casualties hit record high 11,000 in 2015 - UN report

[3] According to a recent report by the Afghan government’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance, over 50% of the country’s 384 districts face some threat of violence (link). At the same time as the EU plan is about to be launched: "Simultaneously, Pakistan – the country that houses more expatriate Afghans than any other – plans to repatriate the 3 million Afghans who have sought refuge there since 1978." See: Plans to repatriate 3 million Afghan refugees are dangerous and misguided - Europe and Pakistan’s proposals to send millions of people back to Afghanistan will cause mayhem in an already fragile country (Guardian) and:

See also: EU's secret ultimatum to Afghanistan: accept 80,000 deportees or lose aid (Guardian)

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error