German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for coordinated European Union (EU) action to take in the most vulnerable people from Afghanistan amid the takeover of the country by the Taliban militant group.
Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Tuesday, Merkel said people fleeing Afghanistan should be helped first and foremost by neighboring countries in coordination with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
“We can think about, as a second step, whether especially affected people can be brought to Europe in a controlled way,” she said after talks with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.
She acknowledged deep, longstanding divisions within the EU on the subject of asylum, calling it a “weakness” of the 27-member bloc “which we have to work on in earnest.”
Until recently, some European countries such as Germany had been pushing ahead with deportation of Afghan refugees even as the Kabul government’s grip on Afghan territory crumbled. Last week, Germany and five other EU member states sent a letter to the bloc’s executive arm warning against the halting of the deportation of rejected Afghan asylum seekers. They argued that any suspension of deportations would act as a migration magnet and “motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU.”
Asked last month at a press conference whether Germany should welcome Afghan refugees, Merkel replied, “We cannot solve all of these problems by taking everyone in.”
The unfolding events in Afghanistan have led to chaos and confusion, with thousands of Afghan civilians and diplomats swarming the Kabul airport to take evacuation flights.
Meanwhile, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier depicted the images of the throngs of the people who tried to flee Kabul as “shameful” for Western nations.
In a statement at the German presidential palace, Steinmeier said “the images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West,” adding that “we are experiencing a human tragedy for which we share responsibility.”
He said, “All the more now, we have to stand by those to whom we are indebted for their work and support,” and announced the government’s decision to “airlift” thousands of German-Afghan dual nationals as well as rights activists, lawyers, and people who worked with foreign forces.
On Monday, a German military plane evacuated only seven people due to the airport chaos. But a second plane took off from Kabul early on Tuesday afternoon with more than 120 people on board, including Germans, Afghans, and other nationals, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter.
The development comes as UN human rights experts call for member states to keep their borders open to receive asylum seekers from Afghanistan.
More than 570,000 Afghan refugees have sought asylum in the EU since 2015, making them the second-largest group of asylum seekers after Syrians.