Restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic continue to hamper overall migration to Europe, including illegal immigration from Afghanistan. The measures resulting from the pandemic are temporary, and their effect on illegal migration is short-term. As restrictions ease, migration from Afghanistan will likely increase primarily via the Eastern Mediterranean route. This will probably not lead to mass border crossing comparable to that caused by the Syrian crisis when 821,000 refugees from Turkey entered Greece in 2015. The flow of illegal migrants to the EU will likely remain lower even if the situation in Afghanistan escalates at the same time as restrictions are eased, spreading out over a longer period compared with the migration flows from Syria and Iraq between 2015 and 2016.
With the easing of restrictions, migration flows may increase not only along the Eastern Mediterranean route but also on the alternative Eastern land route. This would entail a journey to the EU via Russia, Belarus or Ukraine. However, the prospects for this route are hampered by the need for a mediation network and high charges. Moreover, Afghanistan’s northern neighbours have stepped up border controls, limiting the crossing options. It is therefore likely the increase on the Eastern land route, a more costly alternative, will remain marginal compared to the Eastern Mediterranean route.
Estonia is geographically remote from the major illegal migration routes. The main goal of migrants from Afghanistan so far has been to reach Germany, which has the largest Afghan community in Europe. However, with a significant Afghan community in Sweden, the flow of refugees to Estonia could increase if Scandinavia became the main destination for Afghans.
In our assessment, migratory pressure on Europe from Afghanistan will remain in 2022. Still, we do not expect to see migration on a scale like the 2015 Syrian crisis or a sudden mass concentration of Afghan refugees on European borders. Tensions in international hotbeds of conflict that affect migration are a potential source of instability for both Estonia and the EU more broadly.