The EU must welcome Afghans who are "in immediate danger" with the arrival to power of the Taliban, the European Commission said on Wednesday, calling on member states to "speed up" their operations to take in refugees.
"Journalists, NGO staff and human rights advocates in Afghanistan are amongst those who are most at risk, women in particular," Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said in a statement.
"While we continue our work to address risks of irregular migration, fight against human smuggling and manage our borders effectively, we need to offer legal, safe and organised pathways towards the EU," she said.
"I have called on Member States to step up their engagement on resettlement, to increase resettlement quotas to help those in need of international protection."
Johansson echoed French President Emmanuel Macron's call for a robust mechanism to prevent any illegal smuggling networks from taking root, seeking to take advantage of vulnerable Afghans trying to flee west.
"We should not wait until people arrive at the external borders of the European Union. This is not a solution. We should prevent people from heading towards the European Union through unsafe, irregular and uncontrolled routes run by smugglers," she said in the statement.
The Commissioner said the need to tackle irregular migration and human smuggling while ensuring a safe and legal path into Europe reflected "our comprehensive and balanced approach on migration set out in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she was open to the "controlled" reception of "particularly vulnerable" Afghan refugees who are fleeing the Taliban regime. However, the subject is hotly debated among the EU27.
President Macron said there was a need to "anticipate" the possible arrival of Afghans and set up a coordinated approach to tackle "irregular migratory flows" which "feed trafficking of all kinds".
Austria on Wednesday called on the EU to set up "detention centres" in countries neighbouring Afghanistan to detain Afghans expelled from Europe. Athens meanwhile has spoken of wanting to return Afghan asylum seekers to Turkey.
Johansson spoke of the EU's support for millions of displaced people in Afghanistan via international organisations, referring to cooperation already underway with the Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan.
"A significant number of Afghani nationals have already fled to neighbouring countries. We should work closely with the countries in the region and be ready to provide them with the necessary humanitarian and development assistance. We must step up our support as the situation evolves."