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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF AFGHAN REFUGEE INFLUX & INCREASED SECURITY THREATS IN EUROPE

Team: EUCOM

Week of: Monday, August 16, 2021


Afghan citizens in front of Kabul International Airport[1]

The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) EUCOM Team is issuing a FLASH ALERT for government, law enforcement, and military officials in Western and Central Europe, including Balkan countries regarding the potential increased and unregulated flow of Afghan refugees following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. Given the lack of strengthened security measures at European borders, it is HIGHLY LIKELY that unregulated migration will increase, ALMOST CERTAINLY increasing security threats to European countries as displaced individuals, some convicted criminals, and terrorists might enter European territories. It is also HIGHLY LIKELY that a humanitarian crisis inside European countries, such as Germany, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia will occur, along with increased illegal trafficking of human beings, drugs, and weapons, which will LIKELY cause far-right movements that oppose immigration to protest.


On Sunday, August 15, 2021, the Taliban, an Islamist military organization, effectively took control of Afghanistan after sealing their authority of Kabul, the Afghan capital. The Afghan government then collapsed after former President Ashraf Ghani left the country, abandoning the presidential palace to Taliban fighters and leaving the city in chaos.[2] Subsequently, Afghans fled Afghanistan into bordering countries, such as India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, in fear of retaliation. Central Asian countries might experience destabilization as a result of the influx of refugees from Afghanistan. Some countries in Central and Western Europe, such as Germany, Turkey, Albania, and Kosovo, publicly stated that they will accept Afghan refugees and provide them with asylum.[3] This decision will HIGHLY LIKELY create potential refugee crises in these European countries, as thousands of Afghan citizens will try to flee there to escape the Afghan territory.

In 1996, the Taliban first seized Kabul and established a formal government, declaring the creation of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and imposed extremely strict interpretations of Islamic law. In 2001, the United States (US) and allied forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, which was protecting al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the US.[4] After twenty years of occupation in the Afghan territory, during which US and allied forces managed to oust the Taliban government and to help build up a new democratic Afghan government with capable defense forces, NATO decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Taliban militants quickly took control of the Afghan capital and the government and gained control of the surrounding area.[5]


The new Taliban government will ALMOST CERTAINLY be followed by the return of extremist rule under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam, causing a setback in Afghan’s support for human rights.[6] During the absence of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan experienced significant progress in education, freedom of speech, and other individual civil liberties, marking a shift away from the hard-line Shariah law the Taliban enforced. The return of strict Islamic rule will ALMOST CERTAINLY banish democratic concepts from domestic Afghan governance, which will HIGHLY LIKELY lead to the mass exodus of a large amount of the Afghan population to more liberal and stable countries, such as those in Western and Central Europe. Individuals who cooperated with NATO to help establish the democratic government will LIKELY flee the country since they are ESPECIALLY LIKELY to be targeted as “traitors” by the Taliban for their roles. Recent events such as the Asadabad shooting, during which several Afghan citizens were killed by Taliban militants, are LIKELY to reiterate the population's persecution for past or future dissension, which will ALMOST CERTAINLY lead to an exponential increase in immigration to neighboring Asian countries, and eventually European countries.

Mass departures of Afghan citizens will CERTAINLY lead to a large and unregulated flow of refugees to European countries, ALMOST CERTAINLY posing a security risk at the European borders of Germany, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. It is LIKELY to forecast delays in the resettlement of Afghan citizens in European countries due to an increased number of asylum requests. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to welcome 20,000 refugees under the new relocation program,[7] while France announced they are working on a coordinated response against irregular migratory flows.[8] The European Commission recently addressed the security threats of an open-door policy regarding displaced persons,[9] ALMOST CERTAINLY impacting the number of European Union (EU) members willing to host Afghan refugees. According to the United Nations (UN), Turkey hosts three million Syrian refugees, the greatest host country of refugees in the world.[10] Turkey faces a HIGH security threat as the capital city of Ankara is already near a breaking point due to the number of Syrian refugees the country has taken in over the years. An additional influx of Afghan refugees would LIKELY threaten the country’s existing infrastructure, further threatening domestic security. It is HIGHLY LIKELY that Turkey will look to the rest of the EU to provide the bulk of the aid to Afghan refugees due to the high level of assistance it has provided in the previous migrant crisis.[11] Therefore, the influx of Afghan refugees will ALMOST CERTAINLY reopen political divisions over how to deal with refugees in Europe.


Political division over the refugee crisis will ALMOST CERTAINLY lead to an inter-European conflict of opinions and fall out as the crisis progresses. So far, EU countries have been unanimous in their agreement that a united front must be presented to mitigate the development of a humanitarian crisis. However, Europe, along with the rest of the world, is still in the early stages of how to react to the rapid increase in Taliban power. A formal discussion remains to be had regarding action plans to properly mitigate the situation in Afghanistan. While leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) agree there should be no bilateral recognition of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” plans on how to accommodate the near thirty thousand Afghan refugees remain sparse.[12] The UK’s plan to rehouse 5,000 refugees this year with an additional 1,500 next year has already come under fire from ministers on both sides for falling short of what is required.[13] Meanwhile, Hungary’s conservative government stated it will not take in citizens fleeing Afghanistan and, if necessary, considers building a fence to deter refugees.[14] As the Afghan refugee crisis progresses, old divisions that were seen during the 2015 refugee crisis will HIGHLY LIKELY resurface to the detriment of the welfare of the new Afghan refugees.


The expected Afghan refugee influx into the European continent as a result of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul will also LIKELY generate societal divisions over immigration in European countries. When the arrival of large refugee populations is not properly handled, the risk of attacks in the host country by both domestic and transnational terrorists is HIGHLY LIKELY to increase.[15] The potential threat of terrorists hiding in refugee streams has made some European countries, but also a large proportion of civil society, apprehensive about offering asylum without proper background checks. As a result of an influx of immigrants, the popularity of far-right groups is HIGHLY LIKELY to increase. Because past anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric typically included the possibility that terrorists may be among them, it is HIGHLY LIKELY that far-right parties and groups will use fear about the potential of Islamist terrorism in Europe to garner support and mobilize.[16] Moreover, far-right parties will also LIKELY raise the possibility of refugees eventually becoming terrorists to assist in the construction of the Islamic State within the European continent. There will LIKELY be rallies and highly publicized calls for a strong stance against taking in Afghan refugees, which could result in possible violence and the targeting of “Muslim appearing” or “Afghan appearing” people. European security agencies will HIGHLY LIKELY struggle to monitor terrorist organization movements, as well as attacks being planned by both far-right and Islamist actors or groups, due to the sporadic response to the crisis and their second or third-order effects.


Asylum seekers and refugees frequently face challenges in integrating into their host societies due to cultural and societal differences that decrease their likelihood of being integrated and perceived as part of the community.[17] If the proper economic, legal, medical, and emotional support is not provided to them, these groups ALMOST CERTAINLY start to experience critical isolation from the rest of the community. This segregation causes severe consequences on individuals’ mental health, HIGHLY increasing their risk of experiencing mental disorders.[18] This lack of integration, combined with the absence of any mental health support, HIGHLY LIKELY results in migrants developing negative perceptions about the host countries. As a result of social alienation, asylum seekers might develop resentment and turn against the host society when they feel they are not welcome or accepted. The likelihood that migrants who stay illegally in the EU will be recruited by either criminal, terrorist, or hybrid organizations as a result of their resentment against the society they live in, eventually resulting in criminality and/or terrorist activity, becomes higher.[19] Refugees and asylum seekers who do not have access to proper mental health frameworks pose a HIGH threat to the refugees themselves, with severe potential consequences on the host countries.


When leaving situations of violence or conflict through irregular channels, refugees become EXTREMELY vulnerable to illegal organizations that may try to take advantage of their circumstances.[20] Migrants in need of money and a stable place to stay may get involved with organized crime groups that are often connected to drug trafficking, the sex industry, or modern slavery. Involvement in the black market HIGHLY LIKELY poses an increased threat to European countries’ security as organized crime groups will LIKELY exploit Afghan migrants, growing their networks and means. This organized crime’s growth will LIKELY increase the threat of terrorist attacks on both European and international soil, as the profits gained from these illegal activities will LIKELY be used to fund other criminal activity, such as financing terrorist groups and purchasing illegal firearms.


RECOMMENDATIONS

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) assesses that the threat of increased immigration influx in European countries following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul is HIGH. The EUCOM Team recommends that European governments, law enforcement, and security forces remain vigilant and strengthen security controls at borders to prevent illegal migration through irregular channels. The risk of a humanitarian crisis at European borders is HIGH if European countries do not rapidly enhance their preparedness to provide an adequate response to the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers crossing into their borders. CTG further assesses that the risk of increased illegal activity such as human and weapons trafficking is HIGH, as it is LIKELY that criminal and terrorist organizations will exploit migrants’ desperate situations. The likelihood of increased far-right groups’ popularity is also HIGH, which will LIKELY make certain groups desirable targets of hate crimes or terrorist attacks.


The EUCOM Team advises inter-European cooperation must be prioritized to coordinate the refugees’ relocation in an orderly and concerted process. This will have the added benefit of preventing a European fallout along with the same divisions as was seen during the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. It is also crucial that far-right groups be closely monitored throughout the development of this crisis in case actors or groups carry out acts of terrorism against asylum seekers, processing centers, or other government facilities. For the long term, EUCOM recommends that states make a concerted effort to properly integrate refugees into the host society. Doing so will help refugees feel secure in their new environment, reduce their sense of and actual vulnerability, and prevent them from resenting the government, or developing anti-government views, which could then result in criminality and terrorist-related activity.

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[1]Crowds in front of Kabul International Airport” by VOA licensed under Creative Commons

[2] 20-Year U.S. War Ending as It Began, With Taliban Ruling Afghanistan, The New York Times, August 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/15/world/taliban-afghanistan-news

[3] Europe scrambles to rescue staff as Taliban take Afghanistan, Politico, August 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-rescue-staff-taliban-afghanistan/

[4] Who are the Taliban and how did they take control of Afghanistan so swiftly?, CNN, August 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/16/middleeast/taliban-control-afghanistan-explained-intl-hnk/index.html

[5] Ibid

[6] The Taliban is retaking Afghanistan. Here’s how the Islamist group rebuilt and what it wants, The Washington Post, August 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/14/taliban-afghanistan/

[7] UK to take 20,000 Afghan refugees over five years under resettlement plan, The Guardian, August 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/17/uk-to-take-20000-afghan-refugees-over-five-years-under-resettlement-plan

[8] Afghanistan: Macron’s comments on ‘irregular’ migration draw ire, Al Jazeera, August 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/17/macron-says-afghanistan-must-not-become-sanctuary-of-terrorism

[9] “REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL,” The European Commission, August 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/default/files/pdf/04082021_commission_staff_working_document_accompanying_report_commission_european_parliament_council_fourth_report_visa_suspension_mechanism_swd-2021-206_en.pdf

[10] Turkish capital reels from violent protests against Syrians, BBC, August 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58185612

[11] Erdogan says Turkey will not be “Europe’s migrant storage unit” amid Afghanistan turmoil, Reuters, August 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/erdogan-says-turkey-will-not-be-europes-migrant-storage-unit-amid-afghanistan-2021-08-19/

[12] ‘We do not have any illusions’: Europe seeks united response to Taliban takeover, France 24, August 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20210817-we-do-not-have-any-illusions-europe-seeks-united-response-to-taliban-takeover

[13] Tories rebuke Boris Johnson over ‘catastrophic’ Afghanistan failure, The Guardian, August 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/18/boris-johnson-defends-uk-afghanistan-policy-in-emergency-debate

[14] Afghanistan crisis: Where will refugees go? What next for them?, First Post, August 2021, https://www.firstpost.com/world/afghanistan-crisis-where-will-refugees-go-what-next-for-them-9893331.html

[15] Links between Terrorism and Migration: An Exploration, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, May 2016, https://icct.nl/app/uploads/2016/05/Alex-P.-Schmid-Links-between-Terrorism-and-Migration-1.pdf

[16] Europe Sees a Migration Crisis in the Making in Afghanistan. Have the Lessons of the 2015 Surge Been Learned?, Time, August 2021, https://time.com/6091084/afghanistan-taliban-europe-migration/

[17] From Immigration to Integration: Local Solutions to a Global Challenge, OECD, November 2006, https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ier/publications/2006/green_2006_from_immigration_to_integration.pdf

[18] Working Together for Local Integration of Migrants and Refugees, OECD, April 2018, ​​https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/9789264085350-en.pdf?expires=1629472513&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=62FBDEC4DDAAFE4F63083CBBE675FA5C

[19] Ibid

[20] “MIGRANTS AND THEIR VULNERABILITY TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING, MODERN SLAVERY AND FORCED LABOUR,” International Organization for Migration, 2019, https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/migrants_and_their_vulnerability.pdf

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