The Latest: UNHCR: Half a million more may flee Afghanistan

Posted 8/27/21

GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency is gearing up for as many as half a million people or more to flee from Afghanistan in a “worse-case scenario” in the coming months.

UNHCR says the situation …

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The Latest: UNHCR: Half a million more may flee Afghanistan


GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency is gearing up for as many as half a million people or more to flee from Afghanistan in a “worse-case scenario” in the coming months.

UNHCR says the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover last week “remains uncertain and may evolve rapidly,” with up to 515,000 new refugees fleeing.

The agency said that would add to the 2.2 million Afghans who already are registered as refugees abroad — nearly all of them in Pakistan and Iran.

“The upsurge of violence across the country and the fall of the elected government may have a serious impact on civilians and cause further displacement,” the plan said.

The agency cited estimates that 558,000 people have been internally displaced within Afghanistan due to armed conflict this year alone – four in five of them women and children. “UNHCR estimates that the number of displaced will rise, both internally and across border,” it said.

Najeeba Wazedafost, CEO of the Asia Pacific Refugee Network, in an online UNHCR news conference on Friday, warned of “coming darkness” in Afghanistan amid a “tragically intertwined series of crises.”

The U.N. agency is seeking nearly $300 million for its response plan for inter-agency requirements.



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MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says his country will work to bring out of Afghans who remained in their country after Spain closed its evacuation operation on Friday.

Sánchez said that Spain managed to evacuate over 2,200 people in the past 10 days. He thanked civil servants, aid workers and members of the military who “took out the highest quantity of men, women and children in the shortest time possible.”

“You make us proud,” Sánchez said at a televised press conference on Friday. “Mission accomplished.”

The prime minister didn’t respond to questions by The Associated Press about how many were left behind but, without offering details, said that Spain will continue working on a new phase to bring them out.

Sánchez said that 17 flights out of Kabul and Dubai in the past 10 days had brought to a military base in the outskirts of Madrid a total of 2,206 people, including 1,671 Spaniards or Afghan nationals linked to Spain’s work in Afghanistan; 333 who worked for the EU and their relatives; 131 with the United States; 50 linked to NATO’s operations and 21 on behalf of Portugal.

The last few people were expected to land in Madrid later on Friday.

Sánchez condemned the attack that killed scores at the Kabul airport on Thursday. He added that Spain had always expressed doubts about the decision to pull out of Afghanistan by the former and current U.S. administrations, adding that its consequence will be global security challenges, including migratory flows.

“The desire of the Spanish government is to work together within the European Union and NATO to solve them,” he said.


ROME — Italy’s foreign minister has confirmed that the last Italian military flight evacuating people from Afghanistan will depart from Kabul later on Friday.

Luigi Di Maio said that among those aboard the departing C-130 Air Force aircraft will be the Italian consul, who had stayed on in Kabul at the airport to oversee the evacuation of Italians and foreigners, as well as the top NATO diplomat, Stefano Pontecorvo, who is Italian.

Also aboard will be Italian Carabinieri paramilitary police and Italian soldiers who helped maintain security for evacuations carried out by Italy. “All the Italians who wanted to return to Italy have returned,’’ Di Maio said. Some 4,900 Afghan citizens were also evacuated to Italy, the minister told reporters.


MOSCOW -- Moscow has strongly condemned the bombings in Kabul and remains seriously concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

“Unfortunately, pessimistic forecasts are being confirmed that terrorist groups and organizations that have settled there, the Islamic State first and foremost, and its derivatives, would take advantage of the chaos that has arisen in Afghanistan,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters Friday.

It “adds to the tensions in Afghanistan” and remains the cause of the Kremlin’s “serious concern,” Peskov said.


STOCKHOLM — Sweden says that its evacuation from Kabul Airport “has been completed” but that not everyone got out.

Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Friday that “we have not reached the ambition of evacuating even more” Swedes along with the civil society groups and former local employees of the Armed Forces.

“The reason why it didn’t work is partly because the Taliban stopped Afghan citizens that we had managed to get to the airport,” she said.

Linde hopes that “a later stage” Sweden will be able to help several of the Armed Forces’ former local employees, and Swedish citizens still in Afghanistan.

Linde said that “we have managed to evacuate more than 500 Swedes,” but also local hires and “some women’s activists and journalists and EU employees with families.” In total, Sweden has evacuated about 1,100 people.


BERLIN — Germany says it believes that about 300 of its citizens are still in Afghanistan after the country ended its evacuation flights from Kabul.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said Friday there are also some 10,000 Afghans who worked for German forces or for other reasons had been identified as entitled to evacuation. But it’s unclear how many of those might have found a way out other than on German flights.

The German military flew 5,347 people out of Kabul, including more than 4,000 Afghans and some 500 Germans, before ending its evacuation mission on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday that Germany is in direct contact with the remaining German citizens on ways to support an “organized departure” from Afghanistan.

He said officials are in talks with the Taliban and others on the possible future civilian use of Kabul Airport and will try to facilitate the departure of endangered Afghans.

Germany plans to beef up staffing at its embassies in neighboring countries. Maas said he will travel to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan starting Sunday to discuss how to get Afghans quickly and safely from their country’s border to German embassies. He said Germany will offer those countries support in dealing with the humanitarian fallout of events in Afghanistan.


BEIJING —- China says it condemns the attacks on Kabul airport and is “ready to work with the international community to address the threat of terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a source of terrorism again.”

The comments from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday afternoon were Beijing’s first comments on the suicide bombings.

Zhao said no Chinese were killed or injured in the Thursday attacks and that China had advised its citizens in the country to “strengthen security precautions.”

“Meanwhile, we have requested the relevant parties to take measures to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel,” Zhao told reporters at the daily briefing.

China has kept its embassy in Kabul open and recently hosted talks between the Taliban and its ambassador, while piling on criticism of the U.S. over the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.

Zhao also reiterated China’s concerns over what Beijing says is a threat to its security constituted by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, whose ability to mount anti-China operations has long been questioned.

“The head of the Afghan Taliban has made it clear to China that he will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to do things detrimental to China,” Zhao said.

“We hope that the relevant parties will take effective measures to ensure a smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan and the personal safety of the Afghan people and foreign citizens there,” he said.

Zhao has not mounted any large-scale evacuation of its citizens from the country or dispatched personnel to aid in the effort to maintain security at the airport.


ISTANBUL – The Taliban has asked Turkey to operate Kabul airport but no decision has been made yet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday.

“The Taliban have made a request for us to operate Kabul airport. We have not yet made a decision on this matter,” he told a news conference at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport before leaving for a trip to Bosnia.

He added: “We will make a decision after the administration (in Afghanistan) is clear.”

Erdogan said a meeting with the Taliban lasting more than three hours took place at the Turkish embassy in Kabul, without saying when the meeting took place. “If necessary, we will have the opportunity to hold such meetings again.”

The president added that the evacuation of Turkish troops from Kabul, which began on Wednesday, was ongoing. He condemned Thursday’s attacks.

The prospect of Turkey operating Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of NATO troops was first raised in June but seemed to have passed when the Taliban took Kabul on Aug. 15.


TOKYO — Japan said Friday it is pursuing efforts in Kabul to evacuate its citizens and local staff who worked for the Japanese embassy and development agencies, despite the deadly suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Friday that Japan is concerned and closely watching developments.

“The situation is fluid and unpredictable, but we plan to continue our efforts to accomplish the safe evacuation of Japanese nationals and local staff,” he said.

There may be little time left for evacuation. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a governing party meeting on Thursday that operations would have to be mostly finished by Friday given the deadline.

Japan sent four military and government aircraft to Kabul and a nearby country earlier this week to evacuate its citizens as well as selected Afghan people — local staff who worked at the Japanese embassy and development agencies including Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA.


MADRID — A U.S. military aircraft has flown around 400 people evacuated from Afghanistan to the navy base of Rota, in southern Spain — the first group of up to 4,000 people expected there.

The flight landed at 9:40 a.m. local time on Friday, a statement from the U.S. embassy in Spain said. U.S. officials, American and Spanish soldiers, Red Cross workers and base volunteers are in charge of processing the arrivals.

The Rota navy base and the nearby air force base of Morón, both hosting a significant U.S. military presence, have been overhauled during the past few days to welcome the evacuees.

Photos on the bases’ official social media sites showed a big warehouse converted into a canteen and a basketball court filled with dozens of makeshift beds. Soldiers were also photographed putting up tents.

A bilateral agreement signed last week between the governments of Spain and the U.S. is allowing the evacuation to the two bases of up to 4,000 people while they are being cleared for continuing their trips to the U.S. The Spanish government has put a 15-day cap for the Afghans’ stay in the bases, which are owned by the Spain.


PARIS — France’s European affairs minister says France will end its evacuation operation in Kabul “soon” but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.

Clement Beaune said on French radio Europe 1 France continues its operation at the moment in order “to evacuate as many people as possible.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday France has identified “several hundred people,” including French nationals and a majority of Afghans, who remain to be evacuated.

Macron was speaking after two suicide bombings killed at least 95 Afghans and 13 American troops near Kabul airport.

Before the explosions, the French prime minister had said that France would end its operation on Friday evening.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said Friday she regrets that “it was not possible to help everyone this time around” as the last plane of evacuees from Afghanistan landed in Oslo.

Eriksen Soereide told the Norwegian news agency NTB that the plane carried 128 people -- including Norwegian citizens and “others who qualify for entry and Afghans in need of protection.” So far, Norway has evacuated 1,098 people.

Another plane which will be the last one with evacuees, is scheduled to arrive later Friday.

“This will be the very last plane with people who have received help to travel from Kabul this time,” she added.

“The operation ends after yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack that claimed many lives. We have all the time been clear that the time window could be short, both due to the security situation and because a deadline has been set for completion.”


ROME — Italy’s last air bridge flight with 109 Afghan citizens evacuated from Kabul has landed in Rome.

An Italian state radio reporter who was aboard said the C-130 had taken off earlier on Friday from Pakistan. The radio said Italy’s consul was staying on at Kabul airport.

The Italian ambassador had left on one of the first flights in the air bridge, coordinating from Rome visas for Afghans who assisted the Italian military, worked in humanitarian organizations, or as rights advocates.

By Friday morning, Italy had evacuated more than 4,900 Afghans, nearly all of them since mid-August. It wasn’t immediately known if other persons, who might have received clearance to come to Italy but hadn’t been able to make it to Kabul airport, might be evacuated via other nations’ flights.


MADRID — The Spanish government says it has ended its evacuation operation from Afghanistan with the arrival in Dubai early on Friday of the two military aircraft that have carried Spaniards and vulnerable Afghans out of the Taliban-controlled country.

The last flights carried Spanish aid workers, Afghan collaborators and their relatives, as well as the last 81 soldiers and diplomats that Spain kept at the Kabul airport, a statement from the Spanish government said. They were expected to arrive in Madrid later on Friday.

Spain has evacuated a total of 1,900 Afghan nationals, the statement said. Those include not only workers for the Spanish forces and embassy, and their relatives, but also people who collaborated with the United States, Portugal, the European Union, NATO.


LONDON — Britain says its evacuations from Afghanistan will end within hours, and the main British processing center for eligible Afghans has been closed.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says the U.K. has closed its processing center at a hotel near the airport, and the airport’s Abbey Gate has been closed. Two suicide bombings nearby on Thursday killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 American troops.

Wallace says about 1,000 people at the airfield will be flown out “and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours.”

He told Sky News it was a “sad fact” that some people would be left behind.

U.S. forces are due to leave the airport by Tuesday.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities are asking hotels in the capital, Islamabad, to stop taking reservations in order to make room for foreigners who are passing through after being evacuated from Afghanistan.

The overnight request asked hoteliers to halt new reservations for 21 days, giving priority to foreign guests with flights transiting via Islamabad. No current guests were to be affected.

The arrangements come after two suicide bombers attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport, killing at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand says it was not able to get everybody it wanted out of Afghanistan in time before the deadly attacks near Kabul’s airport brought its rescue mission to an end.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday she is not yet sure how many people were left behind or whether they were New Zealand citizens, residents or visa holders. She said the New Zealand military had gone to great lengths to try and find people in recent days and had been able to fly several hundred people to safety.

“We went to extraordinary efforts to bring home as many as we could who were either New Zealanders or who had supported New Zealand. But the devastating thing is that we weren’t able to bring everyone,” Ardern said. “And now, we need to look to see what we can do for those who remain.”

Both Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison strongly condemned the attacks that took place Thursday. Morrison described them as “evil” and “inhuman.”