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IMMIGRATION

German states vow to take in thousands of Afghan refugees

Germany said Wednesday it had brought around 500 people out of Afghanistan, including 202 Afghans. States are vowing to take in displaced people at short notice.

German states vow to take in thousands of Afghan refugees
Evacuees from Kabul embark from a plane at Frankfurt airport on Wednesday that had departed from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Michael Probst

German states signalled that they are preparing to accommodate thousands of refugees from Afghanistan.

The most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia wants to take in 1,800 people from Afghanistan after the country fell to the Taliban, DPA reported on Wednesday.  

According to the state chancellery in Düsseldorf, this would include 800 local Afghan workers who have worked for Germany in recent years. Another 1,000 spaces are planned primarily for women in the fields of civil rights, arts and journalism.

Taking in refugees is a tricky topic in Germany after the 2015 influx that saw Chancellor Angela Merkel embark on an ‘open-door policy’ for migrants, sparking the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) on the political stage. 

With a federal election weeks away, conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet said on Sunday that: “2015 should not be repeated”.

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany handle the refugee crisis

It came as German rescue flights took around 500 people out of the country, from over 15 countries, including about 200 Afghans. 

The rescue mission has been slammed for happening too slowly – and the first German military flight out of Kabul on Monday had only seven people on it. 

READ ALSO: Why a German military plane rescued just seven people from Kabul

But foreign nations are working round the clock to get their citizens and Afghans who worked with them out of the country.

Uzbekistan said it was helping Germany to transport its diplomatic staff via Tashkent.

Which other regions are offering refuge for Afghans?

The southern state of Baden-Württemberg expects to take in up to 1,100 local workers and their relatives from Afghanistan.

Lower Saxony will initially provide at least 400 accommodation places in the state’s initial reception facilities.

Talks were underway between the federal government and the states on further spaces, according to the interior ministry in Hanover.

Previously, Bremen announced it would offer up to 150 places for local Afghan workers and their families. “Leaving them behind and now handing them over to the Taliban is out of the question,” said interior senator Ulrich Mäurer (SPD). “We can talk about the allocation formula later.”

Schleswig-Holstein is getting ready to take in 300 women and children.

Hamburg has offered to accommodate at least 200 of those affected – the first were expected in the Hanseatic city on Wednesday.

Several Bavarian cities also declared their willingness to take in people: Munich said it could offer 260 people shelter at any time without red tape and had already signalled this to the federal government, said mayor Verena Dietl (SPD).

Similar offers came from Nuremberg and Regensburg, among others. Erlangen’s mayor Florian Janik (SPD) said his city could take in 10 families at short notice.

Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland were also open in principle to taking in families, but did not yet give any concrete figures.

In Schwerin, for example, reference was made to the allocation formula according to which Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania would take in about two percent of refugees.

Some states mentioned the logistical hurdles. For example, half of the five reception facilities in Rhineland-Palatinate are already occupied – and full occupancy is not possible because of the Covid pandemic, the government said.

Evacuation continues

It came as the German cabinet approved a mandate for up to 600 soldiers to be deployed to Kabul to help with the evacuation mission. The mission will cost around €40 million, reported DPA. 

So far, the US has taken out roughly 3,200 people on 13 flights but around 11,000 US nationals remain, AFP reported. 

Britain was leading the European exodus, with more than 300 nationals flown out so far along with more than 2,000 Afghans.

“UK officials are working round the clock to keep the exit door open,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Member comments

  1. taxpayer money for afghanis – yes. taxpayer money for free covid tests for people who pay their health insurance and taxes – no. well played Germany.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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