Afghanistan refugees: how many are being evacuated and where will they go?

The Taliban takeover has sparked a hurried exodus of people associated with the western intervention in the country

How many people have been evacuated from Afghanistan?

At least 12,000 people have been evacuated via Kabul airport since the start of a tumultuous rescue effort last Sunday. They include a mix of western government staff and aid agency workers, as well as Afghan residents who have worked with western governments or their agencies, or are perceived to be particularly at risk due to the nature of their work, such as journalists, translators or human rights activists.

kabul airport

The majority, approximately 7,000, were flown out of Kabul on cargo aircraft by the US military. The UK said it had taken about 1,200 people out of the country by Wednesday morning, while Germany’s defence minister said on Friday afternoon it had taken about 1,700 people to safety.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said his country had flown 550 people out Afghanistan so far, while France and Italy say they have evacuated about 500 people each. Other nation states included in the evacuation effort include Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Switzerland.

Where are they now?

Most military planes out of Kabul have stopped off in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, Doha in Qatar or Islamabad in Pakistan, where evacuees have been put on to regular flights to the receiving country.

Some Afghans, mostly civilians who have worked with US or international missions in the country, will be temporarily sheltered in Albania, Kosovo or northern Macedonia while their American visas are being processed. The three Balkan countries, which are due to receive agreed numbers of Afghan evacuees from this weekend, are the first European countries to commit to a transit country arrangement with the US.

Similar transit schemes are planned for Colombia, Uganda and Qatar.

Which countries have promised to take them?

The US has pledged to welcome 10,000 people from Afghanistan, while Australia will take in 3,000 under an existing programme.

Tajikistan said last month it was ready to shelter 100,000 displaced people from its neighbouring country.

Most European countries have been reluctant to commit to taking in specific numbers of Afghan refugees other than those who have collaborated with their own agencies, amid concerns of a replay of the 2015 refugee crisis.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, told party colleagues that her country would need to take in about 10,000 at-risk people from Afghanistan, while emphasising that the majority of refugees will have to be sheltered in neighbouring countries.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has told the European Union to stick to past deals on migrants and refugees and aid neighbouring countries. Referring to a 2016 deal under which “irregular” migrants landing in the EU can be sent back to Turkey in exchange for aid, Erdogan urged his neighbours to “sincerely live up to their commitments”.

Now that it fears increased Afghan arrivals, Brussels should aid neighbouring countries such as Iran to deal with any new mass movements of people, Erdogan said. “A new wave of migration is inevitable if the necessary measures are not taken in Afghanistan and in Iran,” Erdogan told the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Athens has already said it may send Afghans arriving on its shores back to Turkey, which it regards as a “safe” country for migrants.

The UK has announced a settlement scheme that could offer sanctuary to 20,000 Afghan refugees over the coming years, with a focus on women, children and religious minorities. Canada has vowed to resettle the same number.

Is the world facing another refugee crisis?

The United Nations refugee agency says more than 550,000 Afghans have been internally displaced since January, on top of 3 million people who were already uprooted at the start of the year. Most of these people, about 300,000 have left their homes as a result of the deteriorating security situation over the last week.

But so far there has been no noticeable exodus of people out of the war-torn country. With the Taliban having closed key border points, Pakistan having recently fortified its border with Afghanistan and Turkey – already home to a large community of refugees – it will be hard for many Afghans to find their way out.

Further Taliban crackdowns, droughts and the development of the Covid-19 pandemic could change the situation in the coming months.


Philip Oltermann

The GuardianTramp

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