25 August 2021 - Afghanistan, Brussels

Europe must take responsibility for asylum seeking Afghan children

Girls playing

Save the Children is appalled by European politicians’ emphasis on deterring refugees from Afghanistan. It called on governments and the EU to fulfil their moral and legal obligations to guarantee the safety of Afghan children and families at risk of persecution and other human rights violations, and offer them asylum.

“For years, Europe has completely failed to meet the needs of migrant children, including unaccompanied children,” said Anita Bay, Director of Save the Children Europe.

“The result has been a shambolic humanitarian response, violations of child rights and a political crisis in the EU. Europe cannot continue to make the same mistakes – it must ensure that children fleeing Afghanistan can seek assistance, claim asylum, and have their rights respected.

European countries should urgently issue new guidance for Afghans at risk, recognising the dramatic change in the situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women, girls and LGBTQ children and adults," Save the Children added.

“All Afghan nationals whose asylum applications have been rejected or are scheduled for deportation must have their cases reviewed in light of the takeover of the country by the Taliban,” Bay added.

The support promised by President Von der Leyen to Afghanistan’s neighbours, who host the vast majority of Afghan refugees, is welcome, and so is the willingness of European governments to resettle certain Afghans. However, this willingness should not be limited to those who had served their military, and need to include vulnerable refugees from Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries.

“Under no circumstances, however, should resettlement be used to justify harsh deterrence measures on Europe’s borders,” said Anita Bay

Bay said using humanitarian aid to push countries to stop refugees from travelling to Europe was immoral and undermined European countries’ obligations under international refugee law. It also failed to recognize that these countries were already struggling to host millions of refugees and the sometimes difficult conditions for refugees in these countries.

Europe has the resources and capacity to help people from Afghanistan arriving at its borders and offer asylum to those who need it,” said Bay.“What we need is strong leadership to shift deterrence to acceptance. The violence that hundreds of children and families have faced on the EU borders in the last years is unacceptable.”

Increased border protection has led to bottlenecks in Balkan countries, with thousands of children and adults desperately trying to cross borders only to be met with violent, irregular pushbacks.

“The outsourcing of responsibilities must stop. This approach has already created a legal limbo for thousands of refugees on Greek islands, including unaccompanied children,” said Vasilis Papastergiou of the Greek Council for Refugees, with whom Save the Children has partnered to assist children on the move in Greece. “They cannot have their asylum claims examined, while Turkey does not accept them back to seek international protection there. Afghans who arrive in Europe and claim asylum – as is their right– must have their cases examined on their individual merits.”

Save the Children is an independent, impartial and politically neutral organisation that has worked in Afghanistan since 1976 to deliver life-saving services to children and their families across the country, but has had to temporarily suspend services. The organisation provided health, education, child protection, nutrition and livelihoods services, reaching over 1.6 million Afghans in 2020. 

Notes to editors

  • In the last week, numerous European politicians have made statements on the possibility of an increase in arrivals to Europe from Afghanistan: France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that “we should protect ourselves from irregular migration from Afghanistan”; on 20 August Greek Citizens' Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis, while announcing the completion of a 40km barrier on its border with Turkey, said Greece’s borders would be “inviolable”
  • In July NGOs issued a statement calling on the EU to immediately cease all deportations to Afghanistan, highlighting the deteriorating situation in the country.
  • declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union, after an extraordinary meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, stated that “The EU will also support Afghanistan’s neighbours in coping with negative spill overs, which are to be expected from an increasing flow of refugees and migrants”.
  • EASO states that in 2020, citizens of Afghanistan were the second top citizenship seeking international protection in Europe in 2020 (50,000 asylum applications), that the recognition rate of their asylum application was high (59%) but that nationals of Afghanistan still had the most cases awaiting a decision at the end of 2020, representing 12% of all pending cases in EU+ countries.
  • In the last 12 years, the EU + associated countries and the UK have denied asylum to 290.000 afghans asylum seekers, of which 46.000 were less than 14 years old (21.000 girls) and 25.000 were 14-17 years old (4.000 girls). Source: Eurostat and ISPI.