Asselborn spoke during a high-level EU forum on providing protection to Afghans at risk on 7 October, bringing together the bloc’s foreign and interior ministers as well as representatives from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and the European Parliament and UN.
“The situation in Afghanistan calls for an imminent and coordinated response from all of us. We need to find both short- term and long-term solutions and put in place different kinds of protection pathways for the most vulnerable Afghans,” Asselborn said.
In the wake of Nato’s troop withdrawal from the country, the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, capturing the capital, Kabul, on 15 August. Nato allies struggled to evacuate embassy and aid workers but also Afghans who worked with foreign governments and organisations during the last decade.
The foreign minister said that 30 people “have already started a new life chapter in our country”, including staff who worked with the EU’s delegation in Kabul and Nato. Another 30 people are being processed for admission, Asselborn said, adding that this could happen as early as next week.
“We are ready to accept as a first step globally 50 additional Afghans at risk. We will focus on family reunification,” he said.
UN request denied
The decision comes amid criticism that Luxembourg decided to halt procedures for Afghan asylum seekers. Asselborn last week defended the move, saying reliable information on the situation in Afghanistan is lacking and explaining that the decision to suspend procedures could benefit people who might otherwise have been refused their request for international protection at this stage.
The EU as part of the chaotic evacuation from Kabul has taken in around 22,000 Afghan citizens. But member countries failed to back a call by the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, who asked the bloc to resettle another 42,500 displaced Afghans considered most vulnerable by the UNHCR over a period of five years.
At the end of August member states had agreed to rely on Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries to manage refugees fleeing the country and to prevent a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.
Canada has committed to welcome 40,000 Afghans fleeing Taliban rule while the UK will receive 5,000 in the first year and up to 20,000 over the coming years. More than 60,000 refugees are being resettled in the US.
“The sad reality is that the list of people that are at risk has become far too long (and is not exhaustive): single women, children, judges and prosecutors, artists, activists, human rights defenders, sportsmen, former collaborators of international, European or non-governmental organizations, law enforcement officers,” Asselborn said on Thursday.
The minister called for a coordinated European approach to identify vulnerable people and bring together different requests addressed to member countries. Asselborn also spoke out in favour of a multi-annual support scheme for host countries to receive financial and operational assistance.
“This will incentivise those who want to participate, but are struggling with fully crowded capacities,” Asselborn said.
Luxembourg between 2015 and 2021 doubled the number of beds available at its asylum seeker shelters, from 2,000 to 4,000. However, refugees often struggle to find housing in the private market once they are granted their status, meaning that they stay in shelters longer than planned and limit capacity for new intakes.
“Welcoming people from diverse backgrounds certainly poses challenges. The situation in Luxembourg is not perfect. However, Luxembourg invests a lot in order to become a good example, believing that diversity is enriching to a host society,” Asselborn said.