In a U-turn, Germany and the Netherlands announced on Wednesday that they were suspending deportations of Afghan migrants as Taliban insurgents continue to make massive territorial gains in the war-torn country.
The move comes after the two countries, along with Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Greece, asked the European Commission last week to maintain the returns despite the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in recent weeks. Their letter to the EU executive claimed that halting returns “sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU.”
“The situation in Afghanistan is likely to change and events for the coming period are so uncertain that I have decided to introduce a moratorium on deportation decisions and departures,” said Dutch Justice and Security Minister Ankie Broekers-Knol in a letter to the Dutch parliament.
“The moratorium on decisions and departures applies for a period of six months and applies to foreign nationals of Afghan nationality,” the minister added.
No forced return of Afghans has taken place in the past six months and no expulsion was scheduled for any time soon, she said.
The German Interior Ministry announced the suspension on Twitter “due to the evolution of the security situation” in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer ordered the suspension “for the time being,” spokesman Steve Alter said.
Alter said earlier on Wednesday that almost 30,000 Afghans in Germany are currently required to leave the country.
The ministry “continues to be of the view that there are people in Germany who need to leave the country, as soon as possible,” Alter told reporters.
Afghan officials said on Wednesday the Taliban captured three more provincial capitals, with some two-thirds of the country’s territory now under their control. The insurgents’ gains come as the US and NATO prepare to withdraw their troops at the end of the month after a decades-long war.
Afghanistan had in July urged Europe to stop deportations for three months, as Finland, Sweden and Norway had done.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) pressed Austrian authorities last week not to proceed with the expulsion of an Afghan national until late August at the earliest because of “a clear risk of irreparable harm to the complainant.”
Since the start of 2021, 1,200 people have been returned from the European Union to Afghanistan, according to EU officials.
Afghans made up 10.6% of asylum seekers in the EU in 2020, the second-largest group behind Syrians (15.2%), according to the EU’s statistical agency.