In their response to Afghans seeking safety, Council of Europe member states must not undermine the protection of human rights

“Member States must make an unequivocal commitment to manage the arrival of people fleeing the appalling situation in Afghanistan in accordance with their human rights obligations,” the Commissioner for Human Rights said today. of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović.

“Several governments and local authorities of Council of Europe member states have set a positive example by committing themselves to welcoming people fleeing Afghanistan following the takeover of that country by the Taliban. Regrettably, however, many member states have also hinted, announced or taken action to close borders, build walls and fences, restrict asylum claims or push backs. These and other measures ostensibly aimed at “preventing irregular migration” can prevent people from seeking asylum in the territories of our Member States, push them back illegally at borders or leave them without access to protection anywhere along their journey as they search for safety.

Some states have invoked fears of a new “migration crisis” or “the lessons of 2015” to justify such measures. This ignores the fact that the real crisis is that of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, and some neighboring countries to which people mainly flee and which have already been hosting large numbers of Afghan refugees for many years. But Council of Europe member states cannot and should not expect to be immune to the consequences of events in Afghanistan, notably in the form of arrivals of Afghans seeking protection at their borders and on their territories. While this may create challenges, these must be addressed in accordance with accepted and established human rights standards, and not be seized as an opportunity to further erode the protection system in Europe, including the essential guarantees of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Law Convention. This would only exacerbate the real crisis that Europe currently faces with regard to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants: a human rights crisis.

Events of recent years also show that responses that neglect human rights do not lead to lasting solutions. On the contrary, they cause unnecessary human suffering for the people targeted by these responses, leaving them stuck at borders, in inhumane reception conditions and in prolonged uncertainty – often leaving local communities to deal with the harmful effects of these policies.

Council of Europe member states should therefore take three key steps to meet the challenges ahead while respecting human rights.

First, they should speed up the preparation of their reception and asylum facilities for potential new arrivals, in order to avoid overcrowding, poor conditions and long delays in processing asylum applications in the near future. In particular, they should put in place gender-sensitive policies and procedures that respond to the specific needs and circumstances of women and girls, unaccompanied children, LGBTI people and other vulnerable groups. Although the scale of arrivals may be greater or lesser, well-prepared Member States, individually and collectively, have the capacity to meet these challenges. Failure to act now, including because it is deemed politically sensitive, would be short-sighted. And it can turn the idea that a “crisis” is coming into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As past experience shows, it is likely that some Member States, due to their geographical location, will be more affected. They should therefore be able to count on the support of other States, both materially and, where necessary, for resettlement or relocation efforts.

Second, Council of Europe member states should ensure that the stated objective of “preventing irregular migration” does not lead de facto to the denial of human rights.

It would of course be preferable if those arriving in Europe could take safe and legal routes, a scenario requiring concerted efforts by Member States to significantly expand resettlement places and make full use of humanitarian visas for those at immediate risk in Afghanistan or who do not receive adequate protection in Afghanistan. neighboring countries, as well as the removal of unnecessary obstacles to family reunification. However, Member States must be realistic in recognizing that many people fleeing Afghanistan will still have no choice but to resort to irregular movements in search of safety. Member States must therefore strictly refrain from penalizing applicants for protection for their irregular arrival or denying them access to asylum procedures because of the way in which they arrived or simply because they have crossed other countries before reaching their territory. Everyone, regardless of how they arrived, must be treated with full respect for the right to seek asylum, the principle of non-repressionthe prohibition of collective expulsions and the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

Likewise, Council of Europe member states which work with third countries to control migration must ensure that those affected by such co-operation activities are not deprived of the possibility of seeking protection, left in the uncertainty along their migratory routes or victims of human rights violations as a result of European or other financial support. This requires, in particular, carrying out thorough human rights risk assessments of any co-operation activities and ensuring independent monitoring of their implementation.

Thirdly, human rights-based solutions must be provided for Afghans who are already present on the territories of Council of Europe member states, whether for many years or who have arrived more recently. Some Member States that continued to insist on the forced return of Afghan nationals, even when the scale of the catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan was already abundantly clear, have now thankfully changed course. Others, however, have yet to state unequivocally that returns will be suspended. All Member States must scrupulously respect UNHCR’s notice of no return. They should ensure that protection is afforded appropriately in light of the current circumstances, including reassessing rejections made prior to the most recent events in Afghanistan. People should not be left in a prolonged state of uncertainty, without realistic opportunities to reunite with family members, or deprived of access to employment, education or other meaningful opportunities for self-reliance. eventually integrate into the host country. Where protection is nevertheless denied, Member States should ensure that the human rights of the persons concerned are respected, in particular by ensuring that they are not left forgotten without access to basic services or subjected to long-term detention, while return remains impossible.

Council of Europe member states – many of whom have been active in Afghanistan over the past two decades – not only face the moral and legal imperative to treat Afghans seeking protection in accordance with their of human rights. Above all, they also have the capacity to do so, individually and collectively. Measures that undermine human rights are therefore not the inevitable result of the arrival of Afghans seeking protection, but of a lack of political courage and leadership.