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Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez during the visit to the welcome hub for evacuated Afghan EU Delegation staff and their families at Torrejón Air Base

Statement given recently by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez during the visit to the welcome hub for evacuated Afghan EU Delegation staff and their families at Torrejón Air Base.

Dear Prime Minister, dear Pedro,

President of the Council, dear Charles,

I first of all also want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear Pedro, for inviting us to the reception hub here. And I want to thank you for having taken the initiative and I also want to thank the High Representative, Josep Borrell. The two of you having taken the initiative, with the respective Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development, to coordinate the reception of incoming Afghans here, who have worked for the European Union, and to coordinate their arrival here with their families.
And indeed, as you said Pedro, you can feel it today: In the times of need, Spain has shown humanity and Spain has proven a great sense of solidarity. So Spain is here an example for the European soul at its best and I really want to thank you.

I also want to thank the personnel we have seen today. I have seen the Red Cross; the social workers that have explained to us the facilities; the security forces we have seen; the interpreters; many, many volunteers – it is outstanding. And to know that we have your expertise and your empathy is invaluable for all of us and for the people who are looking here for help.

I also want to thank the Member States, who are taking in our colleagues from Afghanistan and their families. This whole event we are living through now is a tragedy for Afghanistan and it is a severe blow for the international community. And the more important it is that even as the crisis engulfs Kabul, that we step up as European Union with its Member States to expand all the efforts of help that are necessary.

We need to help, it is our moral responsibility, and not only to help the Afghans arriving here in Spain, but also those who have remained in Afghanistan. Here, I want to emphasise that the European Union is firmly committed to continue supporting the NGOs operating in the country. Humanitarian needs are increasing with the latest development. If we look at the number of internally displaced people, it is the largest number, it is 3.7 million people almost. And 80% of them are women and girls, and children. And they are the most at risk. So we must help ensure that displaced Afghans can safely return to their homes, or have at least a perspective, whether they are currently in Afghanistan or in the neighbouring countries. And for that purpose, the Commission is currently working on increasing its current humanitarian aid. We had planned an envelope of EUR 57 million for 2021, but we have to increase that. And we will soon come forward with a proposal.

My second point is concerning migration: Above all, we need to prevent people from falling into the hands of smugglers and human traffickers. These human traffickers put Afghans, who right now try to flee the conflict, in at least as much danger. And therefore, to those who cannot go back or stay home, we have to offer alternatives.

This means, first, that we must offer legal and safe routes globally, organised by us, the international community, to those who need protection. And for this to be effective, we must act together on a global level. That will be indeed one of the issues, Charles and Pedro, that I think is central to the G7 meeting next week. At the G7 meeting, I would like to follow up on the Resettlement Forum that the Commission organised in July together with some Member States, with Canada, the United States and the UNHCR. This resettlement of vulnerable people is of utmost importance, it is our moral duty.

And in this Resettlement Forum, we agreed to coordinate our efforts to find much needed solutions for refugees in need of protection. So now is the time to put that commitment into action. And in particular, we need to think about those in imminent danger in Afghanistan, such as journalists or human rights defenders, and especially women and girls.

And that leads me to the following point: You are so right, Pedro, it was not in vain. There are, for 20 years, generations who were able to attend schools, who were able to study, who acquired education, who are the ones from whom you never ever can take that away anymore, the possibility to decide for your own life. And them, we have to support. They are at high risk of losing all their rights in the country. So here, I also call on all States who have participated in the Afghanistan mission – Europeans and others – to provide sufficient resettlement quotas and secure pathways, so that collectively we can accommodate those in need of protection. The Commission stands ready to look into the necessary budgetary means to support EU Member States who will step up and help resettle refugees.

The last issue I want to touch on concerns aid to Afghanistan in this new phase. Once again, humanitarian aid has to continue. And of course, the situation is still very unclear and very unpredictable. We see the Taliban taking the reins of the country. We hear of discussions to form a government that is inclusive. We hear Taliban statements that stress that women will have their rightful place in society, and be able to study and work, within the framework of Islam – whatever that means. But we also hear more and more reports of people being hunted down for their past work or their opinions. And we hear of women being turned away when they show up at their usual workplace.

So let me be very clear on development aid. The EUR 1 billion in EU funds set aside for development aid for the next seven years is tied to strict conditions: respect for human rights, good treatment of minorities, and respect for the rights of women and girls, just to name a few. And not a single euro of development aid can go to a regime that denies women and girls their full freedoms and rights to education and careers. We may well hear the Taliban's words, but we will measure them above all by their deeds and their actions.

Thank you.

Click here for the full press release

 

Original article link: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_21_4341

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