Lydia Pardun, Gabby Silberman, Lucy Game, Extremism Team
Week of Monday, September 20, 2021
Evacuation from Kabul Airport in Afghanistan
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban resumed power in Afghanistan, prompting an evacuation of thousands of individuals. Afghan refugees are now seeking asylum in European countries, however, many European Union (EU) countries opposed receiving more refugees. The aftermath of the refugee influx in 2015 likely accounts for the EU's current response. As the Taliban-controlled Afghan government remains in power, more individuals will likely seek to flee, especially as strict punishment resumes in the country. Implications of refugee acceptance in Europe likely include an increase in anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment and emboldened far-right populist groups. European governments’ efforts to keep refugees in Afghanistan’s bordering countries by providing aid to those governments is likely a strategy to prevent a response similar to the 2015 European Refugee Crisis.
The 2015 European Refugee Crisis, triggered by multiple concurrent conflicts occurring in mostly Africa and the Middle East, saw 890,000 people enter Germany in just one year, with similar numbers recorded across other European countries. This has likely had a significant influence on the immigration policies of European states, as well as public opinion on the acceptance of refugees. Increases in refugees in Europe have led to some countries adopting reactionary and isolationist policies. For example, the United Kingdom (UK) has used a “Hostile Environment” style of immigration policy for the past decade; this aims to discourage potential asylum seekers by restricting their access to services such as housing and healthcare. The implementation of the “Hostile Environment” policies has sometimes been racialized and led to institutionalized xenophobia by limiting service access on the basis of ethnic and religious appearance irrespective of immigration status. Restricting access to services, such as housing and unemployment benefits, would likely drive affected groups into poverty at a rate disproportionate to unaffected groups. This would likely isolate the communities most affected and make them more insular as they likely have to seek public goods, such as childcare, food, and other amenities, from within their own affected communities and particularly those with similar linguistic backgrounds. Subsequently, this could signal to far-right and right-wing populist groups, who believe that migrant communities threaten cultural cohesion, that migrants are unwilling to assimilate into mainstream European culture. By creating this distinction between mainstream culture and migrants, “us-versus-them” sentiment could likely occur and be a factor encouraging violence against migrants. It is therefore likely that policies across Europe similar to “Hostile Environment” policies influenced and legitimized the unequal treatment of migrants by far-right populists and violent extremist groups.
Right-wing populism merges concerns over a powerful and corrupt elite with chauvinistic nationalism, xenophobia, and nativism; right-wing populists are therefore opposed to mass immigration, especially when this alters a country’s racial and ethnic composition. A large proportion of those migrating to Europe are Muslims, which could likely explain the growth of Islamophobic sentiment in Europe. Islamophobia had gained significant traction in the US and Europe post-9/11 but has almost certainly worsened since the 2015 European Refugee Crisis. This crisis has almost certainly increased support for right-wing populist groups in Europe exponentially, such as Alternative für Deutschland (“Alternative for Germany'') and the British National Party. Some concerns held by right-wing populists over immigration could be indicative of a general fear of the “Great Replacement”. “Great Replacement Theory” expresses apprehensions over the changing ethnic composition of historically white countries and stipulates that over the coming decades white people will become a minority within these countries. The language used in discussions of “Great Replacement Theory”, such as that of homelands being under “attack” or “siege,” has violent connotations and could be fueling violent extremist actions. Therefore, while not innately violent, right-wing populist groups will very likely continue to create a permissive environment for extremist sentiment to manifest; this could likely create more violent subsidiaries for typically legitimate political and social groups. Anti-migrant sentiment will likely increase due to immigration from Afghanistan, and as a result, acts of violent extremism targeting Muslim populations are highly probable.
In the Netherlands, demonstrators have burned car tires in areas hosting recently evacuated Afghan refugees to display their opposition to refugee increases in the country. It is likely many European countries will be reluctant to host Afghan refugees due to previous reactions against them, particularly from the far-right, to previous immigration influxes. The 2015 European Refugee Crisis demonstrated that negative reactions towards refugee influxes will likely increase support for far-right groups who advocate for more punitive and restrictive migration policies; it is therefore probable that restrictive migration policies will be instated by mainstream political parties in Europe in light of upcoming elections to reduce the appeal of far-right groups as an alternative. Some EU member States are attempting to limit migration to Europe by providing financial aid to countries neighboring Afghanistan, enabling them to accommodate a greater number of refugees. The EU has pledged one billion euros in aid to be distributed over the next five years, with 450 million euros going to countries neighboring Afghanistan to facilitate this policy. However, some difficulties could be encountered when attempting to contain migration from Afghanistan to neighboring countries. Many surrounding countries could be deemed unsafe due to existing issues with extremist groups already present; certain refugees, particularly those who have aided the international response in Afghanistan, are almost certainly at a greater vulnerability to violence within these countries. It is also uncertain how to ensure aid will directly reach Afghan refugees instead of the Taliban or other groups who may want to exploit dispersed aid. Attempts of theft and fraud should be anticipated and law enforcement and security agencies should be prepared to mitigate these accordingly.
Half a million Afghans are projected to flee by the end of 2021. If a large portion of Afghans apply for asylum in the EU, member States are very likely to have insufficient resources to effectively process a mass immigration in a short period of time. The mass acceptance of refugees also likely poses a security threat, as those entering may not undergo sufficient background checks, as seen during the Kabul evacuations when an Afghan individual on a UK no-fly list boarded a plane and landed in Birmingham before being stopped at the airport. Although this individual was eventually identified as a security risk, there may be individuals who can evade detection, particularly when numerous refugees are arriving simultaneously; some perpetrators of the Paris attacks were able to enter undetected when Europe underwent the influx of refugees in 2015. Therefore, security personnel should be on high alert to mitigate such threats.
Still facing overcrowding with Syrian refugees, European countries, such as the Czech Republic, are struggling to find space and funding to accept Afghan refugees. An Afghan refugee influx is almost certain to lead to greater strains on countries’ economies and housing markets. These areas are almost certainly already under pressure with COVID-19’s impact on the economy and strained resources from the 2015 refugee crisis. Competition among small businesses and rates of unemployment will likely increase initially as Afghan refugees enter European countries and search for employment. As the refugee crisis continues, public approval for providing aid to Afghans seeking asylum will very likely decrease, influencing election candidates to focus on other issues to win votes and likely restricting funding allocated to refugee relief in favor of other projects. Many countries have chosen to pay for these aid resources by increasing taxes, such as Finland, which decided to increase capital tax and income tax for its high income bracket. This will almost certainly further increase the economic impact of receiving significantly higher immigration numbers than normal. The rise in taxes has created frustration among conservatives and will likely create more public criticism as the opinion of refugees goes down. This will likely lead to a rise in the political power of conservative parties with more right-leaning beliefs benefiting from the criticism of current government choices.
Since the approval of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and of the subsequent 1967 Protocol, management of displaced persons has been increasingly securitized. There are legitimate reasons to increase security awareness during times of mass immigration, yet this should be managed to reflect the proportionality of the actual threat created. If security concerns regarding immigration are generalized to entire migrant populations, greater secondary security issues would likely be created. The concept of “crimmigration” describes the scenario in which, regardless of legal rights to seek asylum, refugees become criminalized. When refugees are criminalized, they are likely seen as a more legitimate target of violence by anti-migrant extremist groups. This likely promotes the rhetoric that distinguishes between “deserving” and “undeserving” refugees. Those at greater risk of criminalization, such as men, those with poor language skills, and those perceived to be economic migrants, are very likely at a greater risk of violence by extremist groups due to some perceiving them to be a “deserving” target.
It is probable that the increased reliance on outsourcing for border security within the EU and in the UK increases the risk of violence towards refugees. Companies used for border security, such as Frontex and Serco, are considered to be less accountable than state agencies, such as homeland security departments. This is because, unlike government agencies, they are not held directly accountable by citizens through democratic elections and oversight. Outsourcing of border security is also believed to increase the risk of violence towards women, minors and those not conforming to heterosexuality or their birth-assigned gender. Frontex has faced allegations of unlawful conduct, and its actions could be in violation of international human rights norms. The use of institutionalized violence and poor conduct towards refugees will likely encourage right-wing extremist groups to use violence against refugees, as they may perceive such violence as being legitimized by border security companies' practices. National European governments and the EU parliament, if accepting refugees, should increase the oversight placed on outsourced border security agencies, and they should ensure that all actions relating to border policy and refugee management are in line with the responsibilities outlined in the 1951 UN Convention and 1967 Protocol.
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