Buying the Right to Repatriate

By Dan Cadman on October 6, 2016

The European Union (EU) has struck a deal with Afghanistan that will permit it to forcibly remove Afghan nationals who have illegally entered EU territory, among the hundreds of thousands of land- and seaborne migrants who've headed in that direction in the past 12 to18 months, when they are denied asylum.

Up to this time, EU member states — notably Germany, whose chancellor did much to precipitate the crisis with her echo of Jimmy Carter's Mariel boatlift mistake ("We will welcome them with open hearts and open arms") — have been uniformly confronted by intransigent Afghan officials refusing to issue the documents needed to repatriate thousands of failed asylum seekers.

Although nominally separate from any financial incentives, observers have noted that the repatriation agreement coincides with a conference to discuss continuing aid to the embattled country, which is confronting a resurgent Taliban. There is little doubt that the two are intertwined and Afghan officials almost certainly realized that refusal to accept return of their nationals would have an adverse impact on other nations' willingness to provide desperately needed financial and materiel contributions by way of international aid.

The commingling of incentives with the right to remove is reminiscent of a prior deal the EU made with Turkey to be able to return migrants who departed from within its borders when they, too, are denied asylum in EU member states. That deal included not only substantial amounts of cash, but also additional lures such as the promise of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. Whether or not the Turkish deal has actually worked, though, is questionable in light of the failed military coup that has put that nation into a perpetual state of martial law and resulted in arrests and purges of the armed forces, police, bureaucracy, courts, educational institutions, and media by the tens of thousands. Recip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has had other fish to fry. But even had the coup not intervened, the fate of the repatriation deal was doubtful because Erdogan is wily even at the best of times and has no particular vested interest in actually doing anything now that the money and visa-free travel assurances have been committed.

The Afghan aid deal, which was nominally separate from the EU's repatriation agreement, promises up to $3 billion annually through 2020. EU member states will be contributing $1.3 billion, less than half, annually. Guess who else will be ponying up substantial amounts of taxpayer monies for Afghanistan, where our armed forces are also the single most important backstop of the Afghanistan government's attempts to repel Taliban (and al Qaeda and ISIS) jihadists?

Interestingly, EU member nations aren't the only ones being stiffed by Afghanistan in efforts to repatriate deportable aliens. The United States, which has bled (literally) for going on two decades now to try and prop up one questionable regime after another in the country, is treated as cavalierly as the Europeans when it comes to Afghanistan agreeing to take back its own citizens (even though the obligation to do so is a settled principle of international law). Unlike the Europeans, though, we haven't been smart enough to ink a deal. We just keep pouring American dollars and American lives into that black hole.