Working Group on International Refugee Policy
Werkgroep Internationaal Vluchtelingenbeleid
Seminar on the High Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration and its action plan for Afghanistan, The Hague, 24 November 2000
In November 2000, the Working Group on International Refugee Policy (WIV), consisting of members of seven Dutch NGOs involved in refugee protection, organised a one-day seminar on the High Level Working Group on Asylum and Migration (HLWG) and its action plan for Afghanistan. Goal of this interdisciplinary gathering of representatives of the Dutch government, the EU Commission, NGOs, UNHCR and academics, was to come to a better understanding of the HLWG and of aims, structure and implementation of the action plans which are among the first concrete manifestations of a relatively new comprehensive approach toward asylum and migration issues within the European Union.
I will highlight three important aspects of the discussion: the implementation problems of the action plans; the impact of the HLWG activities on EU and Member States asylum policies; the future of the HLWG process and the role of NGOs therein.
At this point, the implementation of the action plans is proceeding very slowly. The main obstacle seems to be the political and institutional novelty of the comprehensive approach. Two problematic aspects have to be mentioned. Firstly, there is the lacking 'ownership' claim of the HLWG either by CSFP or JHA, which results in further political, institutional and financial problems of implementation. In addition, Afghanistan is a particularly difficult case because of the lacking institutional and governmental support in the country itself. Secondly, development agencies seem reluctant to embrace the comprehensive approach and to perceive development aid as a means directed at reducing migration instead of poverty. Officials suggest that at this stage, proposed repressive measures have no more success at being implemented than development and economic aid measures and that as much as 10 years may pass before the HLWG can show real results. Yet, the current political climate seems to show a higher preparedness for implementing measures targeted at the control of irregular immigration to the EU territory than for fighting root causes in Afghanistan and the region.
When the concern about a possible readmission agreement with Pakistan was raised in connection with the erosion of asylum protection in Europe, the government officials replied that the HLWG process did not intend to influence asylum policies of EU member states, who will always have to comply with the principle of non-refoulement. This denial of a direct link between EU member state asylum policies and the action plans is worrisome. Many NGOs definitely believe that there is that connection, and fear that linking asylum and migration matters could increase the tendency to send asylum seekers back before having achieved a sufficient improvement of the situation in the region of origin, thus effectively reducing protection standards. This concern could not be diffused during the seminar.
As critical observers and by lobbying for transparency and for a balanced implementation of the action plans, NGOs have a definite role to play in the HLWG process. The HLWG being under the responsibility of the EU Council, its success depends to a large degree on the will of the EU presidency. There is hope that the two presidencies of 2001, Sweden and Belgium, will attribute a greater importance to the HLWG process than previous presidency may have. We, the WIV, recognise the need for the international community to continue its efforts to address the root causes of the crisis situation in Afghanistan, as this is the only way for the EU to contribute to a situation in which there is no longer a need for Afghans to seek asylum elsewhere. Therefore we will circulate the report and conclusions of this meeting to NGO colleagues in other EU member states and request them to draw the attention of their respective governments to the implementation process of the HLWG action plans in general, and to the situation in Afghanistan.
If you are interested in the report of the seminar or in working out concerted lobbying activities, please contact the WIV co-ordinator, Aninia Nadig.