European officials are calling for a common EU response to a large migrant flow expected from Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the war-torn country.
The Taliban captured Kabul and the government collapsed with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing abroad on August 15, raising concerns in Europe that developments in Afghanistan could trigger a migration crisis similar to one experienced in 2015.
In the Afghan capital, Taliban representatives on August 17 announced a general “amnesty” for all in Afghanistan as military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians fearing the militants resumed from Kabul's international airport, a day after chaotic scenes at the facility interrupted evacuation operations.
European Union foreign ministers and NATO ambassadors are holding emergency meetings in Brussels on August 17 to discuss evacuation plans and the situation in general in Afghanistan.
Ahead of the meetings, French President Emmanuel Macron said that France, Germany, and other EU member states would put together a response that was "robust, coordinated and united" to prevent irregular migration by harmonizing criteria while also showing European solidarity.
"We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds," he said.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said his country “will not and cannot be the gateway of Europe” for Afghans fleeing their homeland and trying to enter the bloc.
"The solution needs to be common, and it needs to be a European solution," Mitarachi said.
Greece was on the front line of the 2015 migration crisis when nearly a million people fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan landed on its islands.
In a tweet, German Christian Democrat leader and chancellor-hopeful Armin Laschet warned that "2015 should not be repeated."
Meanwhile, streets across Kabul were quiet and the situation at the airport improved, allowing for the flights that were interrupted a day earlier when thousands of scared Afghans swarmed the airfield in a desperate attempt to flee the country.
At least seven people were reportedly killed in the mayhem, though it is unclear if they were shot or crushed in a stampede. The chaotic scenes prompted the U.S. military and international forces to temporarily suspend flights to clear the airfield.
Kabul was the last major city in Afghanistan to hold out against a Taliban offensive that accelerated in the space of days as they rapidly gained control of territories across the country.
The Taliban militants have taken control of the city's security and could be seen in streets and squares, which remained largely empty with little traffic. Big markets and shopping malls are closed but people were getting supplies from some grocery stores.
Amid widespread fears that those that worked for government or Western-backed organizations would face persecution under Taliban rule, the AFP news agency quoted a statement from the group as saying it had issued a general amnesty for all government officials and urged them to return to work with "full confidence."
Speaking on Afghan state television, which the militants now control, a member of the Taliban administration, also urged women to join the government, according to AP.
"The Islamic emirate doesn't want women to be victims," Enamullah Samangani said, using the militants' term for Afghanistan. "The structure of government is not fully clear, but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership and all sides should join."
A senior Taliban representative said militants were ordered not to enter any vacated embassy facilities.
The UN Security Council on August 16 called for talks to create a new government in Afghanistan after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of "chilling" curbs on human rights and violations against women and girls.
Former President Hamid Karzai and ex-foreign minister and the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council Abdullah Abdullah were set to travel to Qatar on August 17 to meet with Taliban representatives and discuss the future of Afghanistan.
However, a source in the Supreme National Reconciliation Council of Afghanistan who did not want to be named, told RFE/RL that the visit had been delayed. The source did not give any reason for the delay.
Macron said that Afghanistan should not become againi the "sanctuary of terrorism" that it was until the US-led invasion two decades ago, adding: "This is key for international security and peace...we will do everything for Russia, the United States, and Europe to cooperate efficiently as our interests are the same."
Germany said it had suspended state-run development aid to Afghanistan, and that German and international employees of German state development organization GIZ had already been evacuated.
Afghanistan was previously the top recipient of German aid. The dpa news agency reported that the government had planned to give an estimated 250 million euros ($294 million) in developmental aid in 2021, but that money had not been paid out.
However, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government plans to increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, "probably by 10 percent."
The aid budget will be reconfigured for development and humanitarian purposes in Afghanistan and the Taliban will not get any of the money previously earmarked for security, he said.
"The most important thing we can do at source...is try and provide the stability so we don't see these large numbers of migrant flows," the foreign secretary said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said plans were being made to temporarily house up to 22,000 Afghans at three U.S. military installations. He did not identify more specific locations.
After Albania and Kosovo, Uganda said it had agreed to a request from the United States to temporarily take in 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan.
"They are going to be here temporarily for three months before the U.S. government resettles them elsewhere," the east African nation's junior minister for relief, disaster preparedness, and refugees, Esther Anyakun Davinia, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Western governments scrambled to evacuate their nationals, Afghans who worked alongside them, and others considered vulnerable under Taliban rule.
India on August 17 became the latest country to evacuate its embassy in Kabul, reportedly leaving only three embassies operating in the Afghan capital -- Russia, China, and Pakistan -- as the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul dismissed reports that he had left the country.
“Contrary to false reports, @USEmbassyKabul staff & I remain in #Kabul working hard to help 1000s of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans & continuing engagement here,” the U.S. charge d’affaires in Kabul, Ross Wilson, said in a tweet.
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said "thousands" of U.S. citizens and Afghans who had worked with American forces will be evacuated over the coming days, and threatened a "devastating" military response if the Taliban launch attacks on U.S. interests.
As he faces criticism over the Taliban's seizure of Afghanistan’s biggest cities in days, in many cases after government forces surrendered despite years of training and equipping by the United States and others, Biden said that he stands "squarely" behind the U.S. exit from the war-torn country.
He said that despite the "messy" pullout, "there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke separately with officials in Pakistan, Russia, Britain, the European Union, Turkey, and NATO about Afghanistan, including "the developing situation and our efforts to bring our citizens to safety and assist vulnerable Afghans,”"according to the State Department.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as telling Blinken that an "inclusive political settlement was the best way forward" for resolving the current political impasse.
Qureshi said Pakistan would remain closely engaged with the United States and other international partners in promoting efforts in support of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
According to Russia's Foreign Ministry, Sergei Lavrov and Blinken agreed "to continue consultations" that would involve China, Pakistan, other "interested nations" and the UN to try to press for an intra-Afghan dialogue.