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A year ago the Taliban swept back into power in Afghanistan, triggering a mass exodus of Afghans fearing their lives would be worse under the country’s new rulers.
The number of Afghans seeking asylum in the European Union (EU) more than doubled the month after the Taliban’s takeover on 15 August 2021, compared with July’s figures.
That’s according to data from Eurostat.
Some 6,500 Afghans applied for asylum in the EU in July 2021, one month before the takeover. This leapt to around 14,400 Afghans making applications in September.
Despite starting to drop in the first months of 2022, the number of Afghan nationals applying for asylum was still well above that of spring last year.
To better contextualise how the US withdrawal and subsequent Taliban power grab impacted Afghan migration to Europe, we need to compare 2021/22 with previous years.
Last year, the number of Afghan nationals applying for asylum in Europe more than doubled compared with the preceding 12 months.
But it is still far fewer than applications in 2015 and 2016 when Afghans — amid ongoing instability at home and a resurgent Taliban — joined hundreds of thousands of Syrians in coming to Europe. Over those two years, more than 360,000 Afghans requested asylum in the EU.
Looking at where this recent influx of Afghan nationals has sought asylum in Europe is telling.
Greater numbers applied for asylum in wealthy western EU countries, with Germany taking approximately one-third of the bloc’s total (23,940) over the period from August last year — when the Taliban seized Kabul — and April, the latest month for which Eurostat has data.
The second most popular destination was France, which received 13,730 first-time applications over the same time period.
But there are some notable exceptions.
Not a single Afghan asylum application was recorded in Hungary, Malta and Liechtenstein, according to Eurostat.
Adjusting the above figures relative to a country’s population presents a different picture.
On that basis, Slovenia has received the most Afghan asylum requests. It has had 128 applications for every 100,000 of the country’s population since the Taliban swept back to power last August.
Up next is Austria at 107 per 100,000 people, followed closely by Bulgaria — one of the EU’s poorest countries — with 105.
And Germany and France? When adjusted to population size, Germany ranks ninth and France is smack bang in the middle of the leaderboard at 14th in the EU.
The proportion of Afghan asylum requests accepted increased in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover.
During the July-September period, 67% of decisions were positive, compared with 57% between January and June.
From October to December, the rate of asylum requests granted jumped to 88%, falling to 81% in the first three months of this year.
Meanwhile, Catherine Woollard director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, says there are “serious concerns” for Afghan asylum seekers in Europe.
Alongside what she called an “asylum lottery”, with protection rates diverging significantly across the bloc, Woollard said “one long-standing problem” is that Afghans have to wait much longer for asylum compared to other nationalities.
There were 97,960 asylum applications from Afghan nationals pending as of April 2022, according to Eurostat data.
Woollard also said that Afghans are “highly affected” by “violence at borders, pushbacks and the other efforts to deny access to EU territory,” preventing them from applying for asylum in the first place.
“As the response to events in Ukraine shows, Europe can manage displacement crises and support refugees when the decision is taken,” she said, adding that the numbers of Afghans coming to Europe were “smaller [than Ukrainians] and manageable.”
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