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Secret EU plans to repatriate 80,000 Afghan asylum seekers

Brussels: More than 80,000 Afghans will face being deported from Europe "in the near future" under a secret EU plan, amid warnings of a new influx as the country descends into chaos.

Afghans gather in a room to charge their mobile phones at a refugee camp in the western Athens suburb of Schisto last week.
Afghans gather in a room to charge their mobile phones at a refugee camp in the western Athens suburb of Schisto last week. Photo: AP

The European Commission will threaten to reduce aid to Afghanistan that represents 40 per cent of the country's GDP unless the "difficult" Kabul government agrees to the mass repatriation of tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers.

It admits that the financial threat, if delivered, would result in the collapse of the fragile state. In return for Kabul's co-operation, though, the Afghan elite would be rewarded with university places in Europe as part of an explicit EU strategy to use aid and trade as "incentives" for foreign governments to take back migrants.

Afghan security forces look at a Taliban mark on the wall in one of their captured centres, following weeks of heavy ...
Afghan security forces look at a Taliban mark on the wall in one of their captured centres, following weeks of heavy clashes to reclaim an area from Taliban militants in Baghlan province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: AP

The plan is revealed in a joint discussion document, marked "EU Restricted", which was sent to national ambassadors on March 3.

It warns that record levels of terrorist violence in Afghanistan, which resulted in 11,000 civilian casualties last year, and a failing economy, mean there is a "high risk of further migratory flows to Europe". There are 1.1 million internally displaced Afghans and 5.4 million sheltering in Pakistan and Iran, whose situation is "precarious, without reliable long-term perspectives".

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In October, the EU will host an international donor summit for Afghanistan, with the intention of raising enough aid to keep flows at their current levels for 2017-20. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's officials propose using the summit as "leverage" to secure a migrant deportation deal.

"The EU should stress that to reach the objective of the Brussels conference to raise financial commitments 'at or near current levels' it is critical that substantial progress has been made in the negotiations with the Afghan government on migration by early [northern] summer, giving the member states and other donors the confidence that Afghanistan is a reliable partner able to deliver," it says.

Afghan families live on a hill in Kabul, where terror bombings have pushed many to leave.
Afghan families live on a hill in Kabul, where terror bombings have pushed many to leave.  Photo: AP

Under a section entitled "Afghan interests", it says Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government is "highly aid dependent". "Without the continued high levels of international transfers ... [it] is unlikely to prevail, as it is being faced by multiple security, economic and political challenges." Some 176,000 Afghans claimed asylum in the EU last year, with about six in 10 eligible for refugee status, a rate that has risen as security deteriorates. They make up a quarter of asylum seekers landing in Greece.

The paper says the EU's co-operation with Afghanistan so far has been "difficult and uneven".

Despite Mr Ghani's public statements, "other members of the government do not appear to facilitate the return of irregular migrants, while attempting to renegotiate conditions to restrict the acceptance of returnees". In exchange for accepting "forced returns" of economic migrants who hailed from designated "safe areas" of the country, European universities will offer places to Afghan students and researchers under the Erasmus+ scheme.

The document cautions, however, that the risk that those students apply for asylum once in the EU is very high.

The EU will also provide training and healthcare to those Afghans who are repatriated. It admits, however, that identifying the safe areas of Afghanistan when processing asylum claims is "not obvious, given the rising insecurity in many provinces".

Telegraph, London

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