Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. AP
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday faced accusations from the left and activists that he was letting down ordinary Afghans after he pledged a robust European approach against illegal migration in the wake of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
His stance however gladdened the right in France in what is due to be one of the most contentious battlegrounds as Macron prepares for 2022 presidential elections that may come down to a duel with the far-fight.
Macron promised in a televised address on Monday that France would "protect those who are most under threat in Afghanistan" while also vowing Europe would put together a "robust" initiative to thwart illegal migration and in particular people-smuggling networks.
"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.
Macron also said France was ready to help Afghan activists, artists and journalists who risk being targeted because of their work but it is not immediately clear what numbers this will entail.
Green MP Matthieu Orphelin, a former member of Macron's ruling party, accused Macron "of mixing up asylum and irregular migration" while fellow Green Yannick Jadot, a possible contender in 2022 said he was "astonished to hear that people fleeing the "hell of the Taliban could be considered a threat".
Prominent Socialist senator Laurence Rossignol called the comments "cynical" and shameful" while centrist MP Aurelien Tache, another former member of Macron's party, said he hoped the "president would not be so tough when it comes to acts".
"People who flee war, oppression and death are not irregular migratory flows," said Dominique Sopo, head of the NGO SOS Racisme.
The League for Human Rights (LDH) said with his comments Europe was "sub-contracting asylum for Afghans to neighbouring countries".
France, like several other European countries, has suspended the expulsion of Afghan asylum seekers. More Afghans applied for asylum in France in 2020 than from any other nation.
"France is very attentive to the situation of the Afghans," said a French presidential official, asking not to be named.
"But that does not prevent us being very firm in the face of trafficking and networks who profit from misery and fear. This would be proof of naivety and lack of responsibility."
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, potentially Macron's main challenger in the elections, warned that "for our country this situation will mean an increased risk of attacks and the possibility of new waves of immigration".
Heavyweight right-wing former minister Xavier Bertrand, who is also standing in the elections, warned: "The Afghan crisis will continue in the form of a migration wave in Europe".