We cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan

We must be prepared for this, as we cannot have a repeat of the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, which brought countries at the EU’s external borders to their knees | Cyrus Engerer

The past couple of weeks have seen all major international news outlets reporting the spectacular collapse of the Afghan Government, at the hands of the Taliban insurgents, who claimed victory at the end of the United States’ 20-year occupation of the country.

Culminating with the swift march and takeover of Kabul on August 15th, the regime which the US sought to topple back in 2001, is now back in power, to the unfortunate detriment of women, LGBTIQ individuals, and various minorities who make up Afghanistan’s 32 million-strong population.

As President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul, so did the hopes and aspirations of millions of Afghans, as the progress made in the country over the past 20 years have seemingly withered away due to the de facto rule of the Taliban extremists. Children born after the start of the occupation, particularly women, had managed to attend school, get an education, graduate from university, and start a meaningful career – however, now their future seems increasingly murky.

That’s why the ensuing images that came out of Hamid Karzai airport, shocking as they were, were of no complete surprise. You could see the desperation on people’s faces as they frantically tried to get on any plane out of Kabul, whatever the cost, as a last ditch attempt to not let go of their hopes and dreams, and all the accomplishments made over the past years.

Despite being on the other side of the world, we cannot abandon or ignore the situation in Afghanistan.  The Western world has failed those Afghan people who invested in themselves over the past 20 years. Those young women and men who went through the educational system and graduated out of the American University in Kabul to build a future of their own, only to find that all their hopes and aspirations crumbling down at the bat of an eyelid.

The urgent meeting of the Political and Security Committee in the Council of the European Union, the meeting between Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Union are welcome. However, we must move away from talk to concrete action.

There must be a joint agreement on the way forward that brings together the EU, US, UK, Australia and all those who value human rights to plan the way forward based on what the Afghan people want.

We cannot let these people’s civil liberties and human rights be compromised as a result of the Taliban’s regime. We cannot go back to an Afghanistan where minorities are persecuted, and where women and young girls are treated as second rate citizens, who are not even allowed to receive a basic education.

 As a Member of the European Parliament working on human rights, during the past couple of weeks, I have been witnessing this degradation of Afghan citizens’ human rights at first hand.

Numerous LGBTIQ individuals from Afghanistan have reached out to us, terrified for their lives, and recounting horrible stories where they have witnessed some of their LGBTIQ friends being subject to undignified treatment by Taliban soldiers – some of which were killed in cold blood, there and then.

In the LIBE Committee issues pertaining to the Taliban takeover and the situation on the ground in Afghanistan are sure to take centre stage once we are back in Brussels next week. From a human rights perspective, we need to ensure the security and peace of mind of all minorities in Afghanistan, be they ethnic, sexual or religious minorities. All Afghans have a right to lead their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, and all Afghans must have a right to an education.

We are also anticipating an outflow of migrants from Afghanistan who will be seeking refugee status; as already witnessed at Kabul airport last week.

We must be prepared for this, as we cannot have a repeat of the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, which brought countries at the EU’s external borders to their knees. We must come, debate and agree on the way forward for the sake of the people of Afghanistan, and we must be ready for all eventualities.

I have been vocal on minority rights and human rights in the European Parliament, whatever their cause.

The people of Afghanistan are no exception. As an activist who is in politics, I will do whatever it takes, within the meeting chambers of the European Parliament and beyond, to ensure that Afghans’ hopes and dreams, as well as their fundamental human rights, are not tarnished by any political force in their country, be it the Taliban or not. We have disappointed them enough. Let’s not abandon them now.

Cyrus Engerer is a Labour MEP (S&D)