In Brief

Afghanistan: the looming refugee crisis

Exodus has sparked panic among Western leaders

For weeks now, flights from Kabul have been cram-full of fleeing foreigners and Afghans “lucky enough to have passports, visas and money”, said The Economist. Now the airport is the only part of the city not held by the Taliban. Instead it’s controlled by US forces, their Boeing C-17s “packed tightly” with refugees escaping the new regime. Tens of thousands could well follow in the weeks and months to come. And still more – mainly Shia Muslims in fear of the ferociously Sunni Taliban – are likely to pour into neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Iran, which is already thought to harbour some three million Afghan refugees.

The exodus has sparked panic among Western leaders, especially in Europe, who fear a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis in which more than a million people arrived in the EU, said Daniel Trilling in The Guardian. France’s President Macron was quick to demand a “robust” EU plan to stem “irregular migratory flows”; southern European leaders voiced alarm at the prospect of a fresh influx of refugees landing on their shores. But other governments pledged to help resettle those in need: the US says it will take in 22,000 people; Canada more than 20,000; Germany 10,000.

And in the UK Boris Johnson has announced that his government is setting up a dedicated scheme to give those fleeing their homes in Afghanistan a safe and legal route to the UK, said Andrew Grice in The Independent. The “world-leading” plan, says the PM, will resettle 20,000 refugees in Britain over a period of five years – 5,000 of them within a year. These refugee figures are tiny compared to those that have attended previous US pullouts, said the FT: after the fall of Saigon in 1975, President Gerald Ford pushed through a scheme that took in 300,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos by 1979. Such numbers may be unthinkable today, but if Western democracies are to atone for their mishandling of the Afghan withdrawal, they need to show willing in dealing with the “resulting exodus”.

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