Afghan refugees in Belgium are still having their asylum applications rejected on the grounds that the situation in their country is safe, despite the takeover by the Taliban, De Standaard reports.
In one reply from the Belgian ministry seen by the paper, the situation is described as follows: "The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) have the situation in Kabul relatively well under control. Like almost all provincial capitals, the city is firmly in government hands and relatively safe.”
Only this week, the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban, leaving thousands of foreign nationals seeking refuge, while millions of Afghans wondered what was to become of them 20 years after the US and her allies formed a “coalition of the willing” to drive the extremist Taliban out of the country.
Until this week, Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V) was still supporting the forced return of refused Afghan asylum-seekers, even although the Taliban was making serious advances in its takeover of provincial capitals on its route to take over the capital.
Mahdi placed the blame on the Commissioner-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons, the independent body that actually makes the decisions on asylum applications.
But at least two applicants were told by the Commission this week that Kabul is safe and returnees have nothing to worry about. Applicants whose requests are refused have five days to appeal.
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The opinion of the Commission was, the paper reveals, based on security reports from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) of June 2021 and September 2020 and a report by the UN refugee agency UNHCR of 30 August 2018.
Since those dates, the situation has changed drastically.
"We were perplexed when we saw the decision," Kati Verstrepen, lawyer for the two Afghans, told the paper.
The Commissioner himself, Dirk Van den Bulck, explained. “The decisions were made in the past but were stuck in the administrative mill. The files were sent when that was no longer possible or allowed.”
On Monday, the website of the commission stated that all decisions on Afghan applicants were suspended until the end of September at the earliest. All dossiers will later be reviewed.
But in fact, Verstrepen explained, the rejected applications still have to be appealed, instead of being, as the website claims, automatically suspended.
“The Commission itself says that it has made a mistake, and it has the power to revoke its own decisions, and yet an appeal must be lodged first. That is completely useless and the taxpayer will pay for it,” she said.
As far as Commissioner Van Den Bulck is concerned, meanwhile, the return of the Taliban does not necessarily mean all asylum applications will now be automatically approved.
"It remains to be seen, but it is possible that peace will return in large parts of the country under the Taliban,” he told the paper.
“Areas where there was fighting between the army and the Taliban could become less problematic, reducing the risk and making return possible. We already offered activists and journalists protection with refugee status, and we will continue to do so," he said, and repeated Mahdi's position on the forced return of Afghan refugees when he said some asylum seekers were "not in need of protection."
“We do not analyse whether a country is safe or unsafe. Our job is to analyse whether someone is running a real risk.”