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Executive Summary for February 1st

We review the latest issues related to refugees, including a short-term reprieve for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, asylum applications in the E.U. dropping by almost half in 2017, and Hungary threatening to exit talks on a global compact on migration.

Published on Feb. 1, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Pakistan Gives Afghan Refugees Only 60 Days Before Permits Expire

Afghan refugees in Pakistan have been given a 60-day extension to their legal right to remain. The stay is much shorter than hoped for and raises fears of forced returns.

Pakistan has ignored international appeals for a longer-term option for Afghans, preferring to issue short-term extensions to permits on the eve of their expiry.

The latest decision from the Pakistan cabinet comes despite the ministry that deals with refugees requesting a five-month extension.

The 2.5 million or so Afghans in Pakistan have been caught up in an increasingly fractious political relationship between the two countries. Some 400,000 Afghan refugees returned during 2016 despite dire conditions in their home country. The U.N. says that 60,000 of those returnees have since come back to Pakistan.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), which has facilitated the returns, declined to comment on the 60-day extension, saying only that returns must be “voluntary, gradual and in a dignified way.”

Afghanistan is facing a crisis both in terms of its own stability – with BBC reports estimating that the Taliban threatens 70 percent of the country’s territory – and other countries’ push to return refugees.

Iran and Pakistan have led the way, putting pressure on large Afghan refugee communities to leave. The E.U. routinely refuses asylum to Afghans and pushes failed asylum seekers to return, in some instances deporting them.

Asylum Claims in the E.U. Dropped by Half in 2017

The number of people seeking asylum in the E.U. dropped by almost half in 2017. Most applicants were Syrian, the E.U. asylum agency (EASO) said.

Some 706,913 people sought international protection in the 28 E.U. member states, plus Norway and Switzerland, in 2017. That number is 43 percent lower than in 2016.

Asylum requests peaked in 2015, when more than one million people, the majority Syrian, entered the E.U. Last year was the second consecutive year that numbers have gone down.

Some 98,000 Syrians applied for asylum, with claims made by nationals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria the next most prominent.

Around 40 percent of all asylum applications in 2017 were successful, EASO said.

Hungary Threatens to Withdraw From Global Compact on Migration

Hungary is poised to join the U.S. and withdraw from a global compact on migration. Hungary’s foreign minister accused the U.N. of wanting a pact to “encourage migration.”

Hungary goes to the polls in April, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban seeking a third consecutive term in office. Orban has used the threat of increased migration to great effect electorally, stoking xenophobia as a way to shut down domestic critics.

Orban’s Fidesz party has lost ground in recent polls to Jobbik, a far-right party that deploys openly xenophobic language. Fidesz has also launched a crackdown on nongovernmental organizations and one of their main backers, the Hungarian ex-pat George Soros, whom it accuses of boosting illegal immigration. Soros has hit back, accusing the government of “lies and distortion” and creating false external enemies.

Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto told state television, “The U.N. wants to create a pact that encourages migration, we are of the opposite view, and if the first draft (of this pact) in February takes this line … the question is why we would have to take part in this debate?”

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