EU weighs up financial aid plan to stem flow of refugees from Afghanistan

The European Union is considering a new package of financial aid to Afghanistan and its neighbours to help limit the flow of refugees from the country .

Afghanistan has been ravaged by intense fighting between government forces and the Taliban. Now the ongoing withdrawal of international troops after almost two decades has galvanised the Taliban, who could retake control of large parts of the country, spurring a new flow of refugees.

The EU plan, which is at a preparatory phase, would involve more financial help to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region, two EU officials and one diplomat familiar with the talks said. Money would also be given to Iran.

The objective is to help refugees closer to home and avoid a new flow of asylum seekers to the EU. The European Commission declined to comment on the plan.

This year the EU is set to spend €57m in humanitarian support for Afghanistan. The financial support for the coming years will not be ready before the autumn and needs approval from EU governments and lawmakers.

“Money could go to Afghanistan but also to Pakistan and possibly even Iran,” one diplomat said, saying funding to Kabul would depend on the Taliban’s advance. It would be more difficult to disburse if the Taliban were in power.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, met Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan last week in Tashkent. In a blog post on Wednesday, Mr Borrell offered Afghanistan and the region support, but said: “Future support to Afghanistan… will remain conditional on the preservation of the democratic progress.”

Turkey, which is set to receive new EU funds to house refugees and migrants, could play a role in housing more Afghans, but any new funding for Afghanistan would be separate from the planned €3.5bn for Turkey until 2024.

After a peak in 2015 when more than a million migrants came to the EU – mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – the EU has cut the number of arrivals thanks to a deal with Turkey, which receives EU funds to host asylum seekers.

More than 6.5 million Afghans already live in Iran and Pakistan. Money to Iran would underscore how important the EU sees stemming migration flows.

After former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, EU plans for economic assistance were hindered by renewed US sanctions on Tehran.

Fresh EU funds would not be exclusively for migration but would constitute a major portion of the aid, an official said.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has said there is no legal basis for accepting a US request to temporarily house thousands of Afghans while they await US immigrant visas, having worked for the American forces now pulling out of the country.

Washington has asked Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to house some 9,000 Afghans who now risk being targeted by Islamist Taliban militants for cooperating with Western forces.

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