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Macron faces backlash over call to ‘protect’ Europe from Afghan refugees

Politicians express ‘shame, shock,’ as social media draws comparisons with far-right leader Le Pen.

France’s president met with social media backlash on Tuesday over his call for Europe to “protect itself from significant waves of illegal migrants” after the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.

Several left-wing politicians and elected officials expressed “shame” and “shock” towards Emmanuel Macron’s speech on Monday.

Yannick Jadot, a member of European Parliament representing the French Greens and a presidential candidate for the 2022 elections, said on Twitter that he was stunned to hear Macron declaring the “women, men, and children fleeing Taliban hell are first a threat, ‘irregular migrants,’ before being victims and potentially refugees. France and the EU can do so much better.”

Julien Bayou, national secretary of the Europe Ecology Greens party (EELV), questioned Macron’s lack of response to appeals for asylum by Afghans fleeing from the Taliban. “France must take its part. We need something concrete,” he said.

“Macron shames France,” said Eric Piolle, mayor of the southeastern city of Grenoble in a separate statement, calling on the country to be “faithful to our values.”

France’s priorities must be to show solidarity with the Afghan population, he said, adding: “Help organize relief for displaced civilians and refugees inside the country and in border countries.” He also urged the country to welcome asylum seekers fleeing violence and possible persecution, “in compliance with our international commitments.”

In a televised speech on Monday evening, Macron announced that an initiative would be launched for a European mechanism with transit and host countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to prevent irregular refugee flows.

Minutes later, social media flooded with comments and the hashtag #EmmanuelLePen, comparing his statements with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, known for her anti-immigrant views.

In a statement made before Macron’s speech, Le Pen too pointed out that the situation in Afghanistan would entail “an increased risk of attacks and the prospect of new waves of immigration” towards France and Europe.

The backlash prompted Macron to defend his stance late at night on Twitter by posting a video of his remarks with the caption: “What I said this evening about Afghanistan and that some want to hijack.” In the footage he shared, he was saying: “France is doing and will continue to do its duty to protect those who are most threatened.”

Meanwhile, non-governmental organizations working with refugees pointed out the reality of Afghan asylum seekers living on the streets in Paris and the unauthorized camp on the outskirts of Calais, a northern city where they have been subject to harassment and violence by police.

According to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), Afghan nationals are among the most numerous of asylum seekers in France with an average annual estimate of 10,000 applications. However, they are also among the largest nationality group whose requests are rejected, with just 400-500 people securing refugee status annually.

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