The agreement is the most specific effort yet by Europe to divert or reverse a wave of hundreds of thousands of migrants from war-torn countries including Afghanistan and Syria. But unlike a major agreement with Turkey this year to have that country host more Syrian refugees, the new deal as worded would forcibly send Afghans whose asylum applications were rejected directly back to an intensifying war that has taken a severe toll on civilian life — seemingly at odds with international conventions on refugees.
“The E.U. and the government of Afghanistan intend to cooperate closely in order to organize the dignified, safe and orderly return of Afghan nationals to Afghanistan who do not fulfill the conditions to stay in the E.U.,” the agreement read.
The repatriation deal was announced alongside an international conference in which governments pledged $3.75 billion in annual development aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.
Taliban fighters on Wednesday attacked Afghan security forces who were fighting for a third day to maintain control of the main government buildings in Kunduz, a vital provincial capital that briefly fell to insurgents last year. In the Afghan south, another of the few remaining government-held districts in Helmand Province has been seized by the insurgents last week. At no time since before the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan have the Taliban controlled more territory in the country.
In 2015 alone, 213,000 Afghans arrived in Europe, with 176,900 claiming asylum that year, according to European Union data. Fifty to 60 percent of such Afghan requests have been denied so far, meaning that tens of thousands of people could be returned to Afghanistan under the deal.
European officials denied that the repatriation deal was a condition for aid to Afghanistan.
In addition to the fact that even Afghan districts and major highways once declared safe are now threatened or overrun by the Taliban, the returnees from Europe will go back to a dire economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of about 35 percent and about 400,000 young people entering the job market every year.