The European Union has a long relationship with Afghanistan and cooperation on migration through its diplomatic relations. These have been paused to a great extent since the Taliban de facto authorities formed a so-called government in August 2021 following a collapse in power structures in the country.
The Joint Way Forward
From 2016 until August 2021, the EU ran a constructive dialogue on migration and forced displacement to build a long-term partnership in the spirit of solidarity. This balanced and comprehensive cooperation on migration was reflected in the Joint Way Forward (JWF) – a collaboration on safe and dignified return of Afghan nationals who were irregularly present in EU countries, including their later reintegration in their home country.
The Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation
In April 2021, a new agreement was signed – the ‘Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation’. It built on the JWF and consolidated the already very good EU-Afghan cooperation on migration governance, including on:
- the fight against migrant smuggling
- the fight against trafficking in human beings
In 2020 and 2021, Afghans represented the top nationality of arrivals to the Aegean islands and second for asylum applications. Fallowing the power take-over by the Taliban de facto authorities, the implementation of the Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation has been suspended.
Evacuations and safe passage of Afghans at risk
Since August 2021, apart from addressing urgent needs through humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in Afghanistan, as well as those displaced in the region, the EU has also been facilitating evacuations and ensuring safe passage of Afghans at risk. In particular, people who have worked with the EU and their dependents, as well as specific cases of Afghans who are especially vulnerable are moved from Afghanistan through partner countries to the EU and other third countries.
A multi-annual Support Scheme was announced during the High-Level Forum on providing protection to Afghans at risk in October 2021. During the Forum, EU countries pledged to provide 36,000 short-term admission of Afghan evacuees, and resettlement and other complementary legal pathways in the medium and long term. The implementation of these pledges is ongoing.
The EU also continues to chair the Core Group of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees Platform. The Platform’s goal is to identify and implement approaches towards lasting solutions for Afghan refugees in the region. It also strives to ensure coordination of international partners and their financial support for Afghans in the country, as well as those displaced in the region.
Pakistan is a major country of origin, transit and destination of refugees and migrants. Pakistan ranks fifth on the list of countries of origin for asylum applications in the EU. The slow economic and high demographic growth is the driving force behind irregular migration.
At the same time, Pakistan is the 3rd largest refugee host country in the world, hosting approximately 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees and a similar number of Afghan nationals present in the country either holding a regular permit (ACC Card holders, visa holders) or as irregular migrants.
Pakistan is one of only two countries in the region to have signed a Readmission Agreement with the EU and the Joint Readmission Committee meets regularly. Under the Strategic Engagement Plan of 2019, Pakistan and the EU are working towards launching a formal, more comprehensive, Migration Dialogue, which would enable cooperation on strengthening migration governance, border management or sustainable reintegration of returnees, to name just a few.
Iran is an ever-important country of origin, transit and destination for migrants due to its geopolitical, demographical and economic position. The country is the 4th largest refugee hosting country in the world, while it also has to manage various forms of irregular migration, including trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants. Many migrants arriving to the EU from the Silk Route region spend time in Iran on their journey.
In February 2019, the Council adopted the text of the Framework for a Comprehensive Dialogue between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union on Migration and Refugee Issues, negotiated at technical level with the Iranian counterparts. Once the document is politically endorsed, the Migration Dialogue can be launched.
Iraq is a country facing severe and simultaneous political, security and socio-economic challenges. The EU has a direct interest in a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq.
It is estimated that 4.3 million displaced Iraqis returned home and that close to 1.4 million are still living in displacement, including 293 000 in camps. In addition, Iraq continues to host around 253,000 Syrian refugees. Iraqis remain in the top five irregular arrivals in the EU as well as among the top five countries of origin of asylum applicants.
The EU-Iraq informal migration dialogue is an integral part of EU’s overall engagement with Iraq within the EU-Iraq Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), and sets out a comprehensive cooperation on migration and asylum (notably irregular migration and return, migration and development, border management). Meetings take place regularly on a yearly basis.
The EU and Bangladesh are engaging in a constructive dialogue on migration since the entry into force of the EU-Bangladesh Standard Operating Procedures for the Identification and Return of Persons without an Authorisation to Stay (SOPs), signed on 20 September 2017. The European Commission is providing capacity support to implement the SOPs.
Another issue of concern, is the challenges including in the context of security that Bangladesh is facing due to the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh is providing assistance to thousands of Rohingya population fleeing violence in Myanmar with the support of the EU, the international community and humanitarian and development organisations.
Founded in 1993, the Budapest Process is Europe's longest-standing dialogue on migration stretching from Europe to the Silk Routes Region - also covering Europe's Eastern neighbours, the Western Balkans and Central Asia. The dialogue provides a platform for dialogue and operational cooperation for over 50 governments and 10 international organisations and aims to strengthen regional dialogue and cooperation on migration and mobility.
Ministerial conferences are milestones in the development of the Budapest Process. Each declaration has given room to a widened geographical and thematic scope. In February 2019, Ministers gathered in Istanbul to adopt the Istanbul Commitments on the Silk Routes Partnership for Migration and its Call for Action – a five year plan. This political declaration and action plan build upon the achievements of the 2013 Istanbul Ministerial Declaration on a Silk Routes Partnership for Migration while taking into account the migration developments of the past years. The Budapest Process will focus on the implementation of the five-year action plan in the following six priority areas:
- prevent and counteract irregular migration, facilitate return and readmission of irregular migrants, and combat criminal networks involved in smuggling of migrants,
- better organise and improve conditions for legal migration and mobility,
- support the integration of migrants and counteract discrimination, racism and xenophobia,
- strengthen the positive impact of migration on development, both in countries of origin and of destination,
- prevent and combat trafficking in persons, address its root causes and provide adequate protection and support to trafficked persons.
Promote international protection and the respect of the rights of refugees, in line with international standards, the Budapest Process is striving to balance an interplay between political dialogue and operational action, with concrete projects flanking the dialogue and creating tangible outcomes of the political objectives established. The projects in the Silk Routes Region serve to improve the capacities of administrations to better manage all aspects related to the movement of people, including awareness of how migration could be more beneficial for the development of each country.