One of the most significant reactions to the refugee crisis in Afghanistan has been that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Her ill-judged decision to open up Germany to one million immigrants in 2015 has had ongoing malign implications for all of Europe where most states have been unable or unwilling to control movements.
Mindful of that, Merkel has been quick to reassure Germans that she is not going to repeat that mistake. As a Taliban victory loomed closer in late July, the Germans were planning to evacuate 2,500 Afghans who had been part of the German NATO deployment in the country. Most of them are already in Germany or other safe countries.
The speed of the collapse of the western backed government in the past week has altered that scenario. However, Merkel has so far been careful not to engage in the “come one, come all” rhetoric that defined her open door policy in response to the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. Not least, perhaps, because she is mindful of the fact that a large number of those Syrians have turned out not to be Syrians at all. That disaster has changed the face of European politics, even if it has not had much impact at all here at home. The result has been much greater caution on matters of immigration.
Ominously for the rest of Europe, however, Merkel has suggested that an emergency EU summit might be convened to address the situation, which would include agreeing on refugee numbers. In advance of that, and knowing their Merkel, other EU states have been quick to set out stricter parameters than are being demanded by those who would like to see at least the level of intake as back then.
The Irish government, of course, in the tradition of the dim puny guy who is always trying to impress the bullies who took his lunch money in the guise of the bank bailout and Covid tax, has not bothered with any of that realpolitik which places national interests to the fore. Oh no, despite having had absolutely no military involvement in Afghanistan, our ministers have already indicated a willingness to accept 200 refugees, and set a number that is almost certain to be increased after a little pressure from Berlin. Especially given that they have shown their hand prior to any EU wide agreement.
Other states, by contrast, have sought to set criteria around those who they can identify as having co-operated with their own forces in Afghanistan. Austria, which had a military presence in the country, has been one of those to take a hard line. Reeling from the public horror over the gang rape and murder of a 13 year old girl in June for which four Afghan refugees have been arrested (though not, it should be said, yet convicted), immigration from Afghanistan is a sensitive subject in the country, rightly or wrongly.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron also tied French assistance to Afghan co-operation with their military, and was quick to claim that he wanted to see more action taken to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Thousands of these use France as a transit to the United Kingdom, and an unquantified number of those no doubt end up here.
Poland has prioritised its own nationals in Afghanistan and yesterday stated that they had sent three military aircraft to take back the small number of Poles who remained along with around 100 Afghans who co-operated with the Polish NATO contingent. On Monday, the Hungarian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Levente Magyar, declared that Hungary would not be taking in refugees without restriction. Hungary will also be limiting its intake to those who have worked alongside its military in Afghanistan.
Magyar was also clear about how Hungary regarded the collapse of the Kabul government as a consequence of the withdrawal. Echoing former American President Donald Trump and other critics of the hamfisted manner in which the United States abandoned their allies to the Taliban, he said that Hungary had opposed the manner in which it took place, and that measures should have been taken to ensure that Afghanistan would not again become “a hotbed of international terrorism and a country of mass migration.”
Referring back to the emergency that took place along Hungary’s border with Serbia in 2015, Magyar raised the spectre of hundreds of thousands of Afghans once again massing on the borders of his and other central and eastern European states. Hungary’s response to the influx of almost 200,000 refugees, the vast majority of them from Africa and other countries than Syria, was to close its border in September 2015 and set about deporting those who were not recognised as legitimate asylum seekers.
Such a spectre again looms, and potentially on a much vaster scale. The population of Afghanistan is around 40,000,000, more than twice that of Syria. And like the Syrian civil war, the Afghan crisis will also be used as cover for many other migrants from the region, and indeed from other parts of the globe who will seek to take advantage of the confusion and the perception that the doors to the west have been flung open.
All of this is happening, of course, because two centuries of external intervention in Afghanistan have failed.
Trump was much criticised, not least by the Bush/Cheney military industrial complex neo cons, for his alleged isolationism. He certainly did set about reducing the American footprint globally, but was careful to ensure that potential catalysts of mayhem and tyranny in Beijing, Pyongyang and elsewhere knew the ground rules. Walk softly and carry a big stick might be an apt summary of what he was aiming at.
Biden, in the very kindest interpretation, is regarded by Xi and others as a weak Commander in Chief. As the world tried to come to terms with the Afghan mess yesterday, the Chinese were mounting yet another provocative military exercise aimed at intimidating Taiwan. It was a clear thumbing of their collective nose at Washington and a sign to the rest of the world that they might very well take advantage of the west’s strategic and moral weakness to more aggressively pursue the goals of the Chinese Communist Party.
If it is not too late, the west needs to regroup and rethink its role in the world. If parts of that world are in the hands of totalitarian despots and barbarians then perhaps the best policy is not to try to convince them to mend their ways, least of all by force. Rather, the strategy ought to be one of containment. Letting the enemy know that it will not tolerate aggression, and recognising that part of that aggression and assault on the very foundations of western civilization is mass immigration from the south and east.
Whatever about the responsibility of western elites for the Afghan debacle, the peoples of Europe and north America are under no obligation to imperil their own nations by importing tens of thousands of refugees, and risking a repeat of the political and social instability that we saw in 2015, which still haunts Europe.