Europe must provide humanitarian aid, and reach unity on handling migration, according to MEPs speaking at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday morning.
Speaking at the extraordinary meeting of the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Development and the Delegation for Relations with Afghanistan, EU High Representative and European Commission Vice-President Josep Borrell said that the situation in Afghanistan “is a catastrophe” for Afghans and for the west. “My immediate priority is to bring to Europe those people who have been working with the EU”. He announced that 106 Afghan staff working for EU institutions have already been evacuated to Madrid. A further 300 are struggling to get to the airport in Kabul, the most difficult stretch of the escape, he said. “We have a moral duty to support them” to leave Afghanistan. He also stated that the “EU is ready to discuss humanitarian aid with the Taliban” but emphasised that “this does not mean the regime has been politically recognised.”
Speaking of the longer-term perspective, Mr Borrell said that “there are lessons to learn from the failure of this nation building operation. The US has spent 300 million dollars a day for 20 years, ultimately with very modest results”, adding that the US now questions whether nation building had ever been the goal.
Rescuing Afghan citizens, helping neighbouring countries and revisiting failures
In their reactions, most MEPs called for the rescue of Afghan citizens who have worked for the EU or who have worked to advance shared values. They also called for help to be given to countries neighbouring Afghanistan that may receive a large influx of refugees, and support for EU countries that may have to accommodate new refugees.
Many speakers emphasised the need to revisit the failures of a two-decade-long intervention, the potential for a renewed terrorist threat under a Taliban regime, and the need to develop a coordinated EU policy towards Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the regional powers active there.
“We need a new approach on Afghanistan as new players will try to fill the political vacuum in the country,” said David McAllister (EPP, DE), Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, pointing in particular to Russia and China. In the current very worrying situation, humanitarian action should be the EU’s top priority, he added.
“New Afghan leaders must respect international humanitarian law, and grant humanitarian access across the country. Violence, drought and COVID-19 have already resulted in 18 million people, nearly half of Afghanistan’s population, needing humanitarian assistance. There are also nearly four million people internally displaced and living in precarious conditions. These numbers are likely to increase, so it is essential the international community continues to support the Afghan population, and for Taliban leaders to ensure local and international actors supporting the population can continue to carry on their activities in safety,” said Tomas Tobé (EPP, SE), the Chair of the Committee on Development.
“I call on EU institutions to increase coordination efforts to evacuate EU residents and our Afghan associates from Kabul. We need joint European Union-level coordinated action for safe and appropriate evacuation”, Petras Auštrevičius (Renew, LT), Chair of the Delegation for relations with Afghanistan, said.
On 15 August, the Taliban reinstated their power in Afghanistan, triggering a crisis in the country with masses trying to escape by air and land. In a statement on Tuesday, 16 August, MEPs called on “all parties to secure and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country”, adding that Europe bears a “moral responsibility for those who have worked for the EU’s entities, for NATO partners and other international and civil society organisations.”