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An Afghan boy walks with a U.S. service member as he and his family are led through Dulles International Airport in D.C. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Thousands of Afghans are waiting at U.S. bases in Germany, Italy and Spain — and those countries want to know they will end up in the U.S. before they commit to resettling additional Afghan refugees.

The big picture: EU leaders are desperate to avoid a repeat of the migrant crisis ignited by the Syrian civil war, which drove a record 1.3 million people to seek asylum in Europe in 2015 alone.

"They really have a lot of concerns," European Commissioner of Home Affairs Ylva Johansson told Axios in an interview. "First they would like to know if these people they are hosting really will go to the U.S. before they answer me on how much they can do," Johansson said.

By the numbers: As of Friday morning, there were approximately 21,300 Afghan evacuees in the U.S. European Command region, EUCOM spokesperson Chuck Prichard told Axios.

  • 17,000 were at U.S. military sites in Germany, 2,500 were in Italy and 1,800 were in Spain, although the numbers fluctuate daily.
  • Evacuees are staying for only a few days before heading to the U.S., Prichard said.
  • State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday declined to say what would happen to Afghan evacuees in third countries who failed the security vetting process to enter the U.S.

What they're saying: Johansson said that before considering the EU's role in resettling large numbers of Afghan refugees, Brussels had to focus first on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and then on helping neighboring countries to manage the influx.

  • She also said member states need to be proactive in resettling the most vulnerable Afghans, rather than waiting for them to show up at the border.
  • "As a feminist, it's important for me that we don't wait until we have a lot of people smuggled to the European border, because we know by experience that that's 90% men. And those most at risk are women and girls," Johansson said.

Context: The political backlash from the 2015 crisis resulted in a mainstreaming of immigration rhetoric historically associated with far-right parties, many of which saw unprecedented gains in the years that followed.

  • In an emergency joint statement this week, ministers from all 27 member states stressed the need to avoid "the recurrence of uncontrolled large-scale illegal migration."
  • Physical border fences, which the EU's top executive once said have "no place in Europe," have now cropped up in Poland, Lithuania and Greece with the tacit approval of the bloc's leaders.

"In some cases, physical barriers or fences are needed," Johansson, a member of the progressive Social Democrats in her native Sweden, told Axios. "Member states are obliged to protect their external borders for unauthorized entry."

  • "I don't want to have a 'Fortress Europe,'" she stressed. "And that's why we should not wait until we have migrants at our external borders. That's why we need to reach out much, much earlier."

Go deeper

Winter starts frigid in western Europe amid energy crunch

Projected temperature anomalies through early December. (Weatherbell.com)

Across a large swath of Europe, from Scandinavia to the U.K. south into France, Spain and Germany, temperatures have been unusually cold as winter gets underway, and they're about to plunge further.

Why it matters: The cold snap is the opposite of what policymakers have been hoping for, given that Europe entered the 2021-22 winter season with the least amount of natural gas on hand in at least a decade.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.