On August 17th, 2021, Dr. Apostolos Veizis, Executive Director of INTERSOS Hellas, joined SKAI 100.3’ s radio show “Zoi.gr” in order to speak with the journalist Christina Vidou regarding the incredibly difficult situation in Afghanistan after the recent rise of the Taliban there.
Veizis elaborated on the seriousness of the issue, the need for effective activation of the international community and for the strengthening of humanitarian action so as to help these people who are already internally displaced and due to violence are forced to flee again in order to reach a safer place.
«There are 150 people currently working in Afghanistan, and I will tell you what the situation is there, after the events and the collapse of Kabul at the hands of the Taliban. First of all, we have millions of people internally displaced from various cities where the Taliban entered and while approaching Kabul which was considered a safe city, many people tried so hard to leave Kabul and go back to their villages or to leave Afghanistan in order to flee to the neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, Iran, etc., most of which have closed their borders.
Before we got to all of this, the problem still existed. There had been 3 million internally displaced people due to the unbearable situation in Afghanistan. In May when the peace process in Afghanistan was being discussed we had enough population being displaced, around 10 million people who are at great risk regarding their need of immediate access to food and among them, 7 million are mostly children.
United Nations’ data for 2021 also prove it. Which means that the population we saw coming during the previous period and arriving in Greece as refugees from Afghanistan, they were facing a very difficult situation.
Now with the rise of the Taliban, things will be even worse, and unfortunately the messages that the international community is conveying to the Afghans are more or less evasive. On the one hand we have the western countries that the NATO secretary general represents, saying: “Anyone from Afghanistan that would like to leave his country, should be released.” On the other hand, we have the statements of various European countries, including Greece, Austria, Germany and the French President, Mr. Macron, etc., alleging that at the moment we must protect our borders.
Protection means that there is war and when you have a war, you really have to protect your borders. But we are talking about a humanitarian crisis at the moment, for which it is probably not the time to analyze who ignited it and why this crisis exists. I think in circumstances like this one, you are trying to find a solution. What is important and needs to be done right now is to ensure that humanitarian aid be given to Afghanistan as well, so humanitarian organizations, international organizations can work to help the population where they are in need.
Secondly, in the neighboring countries where the Afghans have ended up having this help and of course in case there is a movement of these people, they should be given the opportunity without meaning that the message is “Come! Come all of you! 40 million people from Afghanistan, come and settle in Europe.”
In order to avoid having either the images of 2015, or to deter Afghans or people from the Congo etc. from being displaced, we need to look at the world in a different light. Ιn essence, what I’ m saying is that beyond the Taliban seizure of power, 10 million people are already at risk of not having access to food in Afghanistan, so they are in search of their next way out when someone behaves them neglectfully, they will move so as to find a safe haven, to provide food for their family because they are suffering a slow death.
We are talking about children dying of hunger and malnutrition, a situation that affects other countries as well. So, in this case the actions you take as an international community are actions that provide both assistance and finding solutions in which people really have no tendency and willingness to leave their homeland.
But at this very moment, just as the story has taken place in Afghanistan, all Westerners from what once considered Afghanistan a safe country, they all run away and empty the country, leaving behind women and children in the hands of the Taliban. You cannot just emphatically say “we must protect our borders”.
If we consider this period that the problem is Afghanistan, and the problem of Turkey is also a problem of Greece, in general globally we will not solve any problem. And I do agree that of course Greece should not solve the problem all alone, but on the other hand the Minister of Immigration, Mr. Mitarakis comes out and states that Greece will not be the place where these people will come as if they have any other choice. Right now, if you want to negotiate things you have to negotiate from the beginning and have preventive measures and these are to avoid situations that cannot be controlled.
I do not think anyone theoretically expected that the Taliban would take over control in Afghanistan in one day. And because getting into political debates right now is pointless, the truth is that today Afghanistan was given back into the hands of the Taliban just in the same way it happened in 1996 and 2001 when things were imposed in a specific manner. So from now on, if we do not want to see such images and crowds of people knocking on our door, with women and children, we must make sure as a global community to provide solutions, because there are possible solutions to various situations worldwide.
First of all, the international community has been negotiating with the Taliban for months, so as a matter of fact discussing with them and they responding, in theory you recognize them because you know who you are talking to. If in 1996 this was the way that the international community chose to handle them and change the balance of power in Afghanistan, now we have to do with a very different thing. Thus, as long as there is still a chance, as an international community you can set the rules of the game and exert influence globally (as it is achieved by the United Nations) while demanding from every government and from the Great Powers that human rights must be respected etc.
But the message we received yesterday by Western powers was: “We are leaving. You do whatever you want”. This message means that the Taliban don’ t discuss with an international community that is able to address to them as “be careful or else…”. In fact, we as an international community have left women and children in this insecurity and of course they are struggling to escape while the Taliban’ s images constantly spreading.
And if we do not want these people from Afghanistan to leave their country, we must ensure that there is a minimum respect for the rights of these people, that there is still humanitarian aid that allows them to have their daily lives. In this case at least we will help them in Afghanistan in order to reach Pakistan and Iran so that the people who will end up at some point in Europe and especially in Greece will be even fewer.
But claiming “I will close my borders and I will protect them at any cost” is an illusion. Let’ s be honest! You cannot protect the borders even if you want to. If you really want to prevent these flows of people from coming to you, all you have to do is being able to intervene even though it is too late but there is still time to take action in Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries to reduce the risk. This does not mean that you wash your hands of all responsibility, saying that Europe can no longer live in 2015 again.
Europe will live again in 2015, 2017, 2020 and in 2035 if this way of thinking does not change because Europe is not acting “as one” and formulates meaningless perceptions. 65 countries came out yesterday and said “whoever wants to leave Afghanistan should leave freely” and on the other hand Europe puts a wall against displaced people and says “Do not come to me!”. But what about these people?
At the moment Uganda, Northern Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Qatar have stated that will accept 2,500 Afghans. So, there are countries that will accept some people as you cannot only welcome those who worked with you, otherwise you condemn these people who will be the first on the Taliban list to be killed because they cooperated well with the enemy and the invader. On the other hand, I ‘m telling you again that if we do not want to see this kind of images, interventions have to be made in the same time because today it’ s about Afghanistan, but tomorrow it will be about something different. The whole story doesn’t end with Afghanistan.
Currently, in Greece the majority of refugees is consisted of Afghans as the first group, the second is from Syria and the also deal with serious issues, and the third group is from the Congo. I believe that in an attempt to reduce these flows has nothing to do with Europe and Turkey’ s agreement, nor with giving money to Turkey to manage the problem on behalf of the European countries, because when you give money to a third party to fix your problem, they can take advantage of this thing. And unfortunately, people have been used either in Evros in February, or they can be reused by any force later because they are allowed and given the opportunity.
Now in Turkey a wall is being built on the border with Iran. It is the first 5 kilometers they have set up according with what happened in Evros, Bulgaria, etc., and yesterday the Minister of National Defense of Turkey said that at the moment the border of Turkey is the border of NATO, and the borders of the EU. He didn’t even bother to talk about the borders of Greece. He spoke about the borders of Turkey. So, in this case, if you give the permission to Turkey to exploit the lives of these people for any political expediency, I think you have your share of responsibility and from there on you will only demand and say “it’s not our fault, but Turkey’s”.
The big picture from Lesvos is also quite difficult because since the majority are over 70% Afghans, their concern for their families, for their own future is too intense. In our program we help several women who are victims of violence and through our intervention they receive mental health care and psychosocial support. Especially now we see that they are very worried. And this is something that will bring a general unrest which already manifested yesterday in Lesvos when 500 Afghans went to the central square and asked for action.
What is important in this case is to follow a different path of solidarity and at the moment Europe is better off not talking nonsense. Νow is the time for them to really to prove that they are able to come up with a solution. What the new refugee agreement has proposed as European countries does not provide any solution. Not even the NATO frigate that arrived yesterday in Lesvos from Germany is a solution. So, we have to act appropriately: Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, sending aid to neighboring countries and of course Europe has to take its own responsibility».
You can listen to the whole discussion here: https://www.skairadio.gr/zoi-gr/episode-2021-08-17