BRUSSELS >> The European Union has no immediate plans to recognize the Taliban after their sweeping victory in Afghanistan but will talk with the militants to ensure that European citizens and Afghans who have worked with the EU can leave safely, the bloc’s top diplomat said Tuesday.
Speaking after leading emergency talks among the EU’s foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also underlined the importance of opening talks with the Taliban to help prevent a new exodus of refugees as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in the conflict-ravaged country.
“We have to get in touch with the authorities in Kabul, whatever they are. The Taliban have won the war, so we will have to talk with them,” Borrell told reporters. “This dialogue will also have to focus on the means to prevent the return of foreign terrorists.”
“It’s not a matter of official recognition, it’s a matter of dealing with” the Taliban, Borrell said.
The EU has decided to suspend development assistance to the Afghan government now that the Taliban has seized power, but the 27-nation bloc is weighing whether to boost humanitarian aid.
Borrell said there can be “no payments of development assistance until we clarify the situation.” He said the Taliban must respect U.N. Security Council resolutions and human rights to earn access to the funds.
But he said “humanitarian help will continue, and maybe we will have an increase,” given the number of displaced Afghans, the country’s ongoing drought, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The EU has pledged about 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in development assistance for Afghanistan for 2021-2024.
The EU ministers agreed that the first priority should be to extract Europeans and Afghans who have helped them over the years. Spain has agreed to welcome up to 400 Afghans and to distribute them among other EU countries that are willing to provide visas.
“We cannot abandon them,” Borrell said.
Many countries in Europe are concerned about an influx of refugees like the mass exodus from Syria in 2015. Afghans are already among the biggest group seeking sanctuary in Europe, after Syrians. Some EU estimates suggest about 570,000 Afghans have applied for asylum over the last six years.
“We have to ensure that the new political situation created in Afghanistan by the return of the Taliban does not lead to a large-scale migratory movement towards Europe,” Borrell said, adding that will involve talks with transit countries.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the world is watching the Taliban and that “those who are now executing power in Afghanistan will be judged by their action.” He said the EU is concerned about “the stability of the region. The neighboring countries will certainly be confronted with further refugee movements.”
Austria, meanwhile, plans to suggest at Wednesday’s meeting of EU interior ministers that deportation centers be set up in countries that neighbor Afghanistan.
The arrival in the EU of well over 1 million migrants in 2015, mostly from Syria and Iraq, sparked one of the bloc’s biggest crises as nations bickered over how best to manage the influx.
Asylum applications by Afghan citizens have already climbed by a third since February as it became clear that the United States would pull its troops out of Afghanistan. More than 4,648 applications were lodged in May, according to the EU’s asylum office. About half of the applications tend to be successful.
Most Afghans are likely to flee to Iran, Pakistan or other northern neighbors like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
In the meantime, the U.N.’s refugee agency is calling for a moratorium on the forced returns of Afghan citizens. The UNHCR also noted that “countries such as Iran and Pakistan have for decades generously hosted the vast majority” of Afghan refugees.