A new agreement called the ”Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation between Afghanistan and the EU’ (JDMC) is set to be approved by the Council of the EU. The agreement which is leaked by Statewatch aims to increase deportations amid a deteriorating security situation for the civilian population and increased attacks by insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

The JDMC is the successor of the Joint Way Forward (JWF) on Migration between the EU and Afghanistan, which was signed on the 6 October 2016 during the Brussels donor conference on Afghanistan. The JWF was originally signed for a two-year period and expired in October 2020 after a two-year extension. Unlike the JWF, the JDMC provides the framework for cooperation for an indefinite period with the option for each party to suspend it only after prior consultation on an annual basis on the date of its signing. There are some changes in the new agreement compared to the JWF most of which reduce protection safeguards for individuals, particularly vulnerable groups, and introduces a set of measures that make it easier for Member States (MS) to deport Afghan nationals at a time of increasing instability and a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

The JDMC allows deportations of vulnerable groups. This is by narrowing down the notion of the family unit to parents with minor children below the age of 18 and by limiting the definition of seriously sick people to those with a serious disease that cannot be treated in Afghanistan. The JDMC further clarifies that MS can participate in joint return operations by non-scheduled flights regardless of whether they have a bilateral readmission agreement or arrangement with Afghanistan or not. The agreement allows the deportation of a maximum of 50 deportees per flight and a maximum number of 500 deportees per month in total from all MS. However, both of which can be increased after prior consultations with the government of Afghanistan. Afghan returnees should be readmitted upon arrival. People who are deported to Afghanistan on the false assumption of being Afghan nationals, should be taken back by the MS concerned or transferred to their country of origin from Afghanistan.

Under the JDMC agreement, the EU escort staff and other accompanying staff will not need to carry a valid Afghan visa, unless they enter the territory of Afghanistan. In that case, the Afghan missions need to issue one-year multiple entry visas within 5 working days and free of charge for holders of service passports. ECRE will soon publish its detailed analysis of the new agreement.

According to a report from Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission a total of  2,958 civilians were killed and 5,542 injured in 2020. Of 8,500 civilians killed or injured were 5,539 men, 847 women, 2,019 children, and 95 victims remain unidentified. While this represent a decrease of the total number of civilian casualties compared to 10,772 in 2019, the number of deaths is up from 2,817 that year. The US Watchdog, The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that attacks are on the rise in the capital of Kabul with targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders and journalists. The report states that “Enemy attacks in Kabul were higher than during the previous quarter,” and “much higher than in the same quarter last year.” Further, the report states that the Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across the country in December 2020, including strikes in northern Baghlan and southern Uruzgan provinces. Three people were killed in the latest of a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan on 2 February, and yet another deadly bomb attack in Kabul killing a police officer was reported on 3 February.

The Corona pandemic adds another layer of risk, and the Administrative Court (VGH) Baden-Württemberg argued in a judgment published on 3 February that an asylum seeker from Afghanistan cannot be deported to his home country, because the corona-related deteriorating living conditions make him unlikely to be able to legally meet his most basic needs for food, shelter and hygiene.

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Photo: (CC) Ronnie Robertson, January 2018

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.