Local Afghan staff seek safety amid fears of retribution

US asks at least 13 countries to house Afghan refugees while their applications are processed

ANKARA (AA) – As uncertainty surrounds the shape of a future Taliban government, thousands of Afghans continue to flee the country, seeking asylum in the West.

The US and its allies are continuing to complete the withdrawal of their forces and local staff by Aug. 31.

On Tuesday, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said no more Afghans would be allowed to leave the country, urging the crowds thronging the airport serving the capital Kabul to return to their homes.

Foreign nationals, however, could continue to leave the country, he said.

Even as the Taliban announced a general amnesty, locals who worked with the Afghan government or foreign organizations have voiced concern over the group’s retribution and fear for their lives.

Countries such as Italy, the US, the UK and Germany have already begun resettling Afghan refugees they have evacuated from Kabul.

Some 3,741 Afghans have been evacuated from the capital on 44 flights and 2,659 of them are already in Italy, Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini told parliament Tuesday.

According to local media outlets, a number of Italian mayors have expressed a willingness to welcome fleeing Afghans.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that the Afghans hosted in various cities include those who collaborated with Italian forces as well as women doctors who worked at the Center for Breast Cancer Diagnosis in Afghanistan’s Herat province.

The US Navy base in Sicily currently serves as a transit base for people being evacuated before moving on to other locations as part of Operation Allies Refuge.

In early August, the Biden administration announced that due to the Taliban’s sweeping offensive, it was expanding the categories of Afghan nationals eligible for resettlement in the US.

The announcement came shortly after the first group of some 221 Afghan evacuees landed at a military base in Virginia. Before being resettled, the refugees are to remain at Fort Lee to complete medical checks and the final stages of their visa processes.

US evacuates around 95,700 people from Afghanistan

Around 2,500 Afghans will be relocated to Fort Lee, while others will be sent to third-party countries and other US facilities abroad to complete their visa processes as part of Operation Allies Refuge.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that 13 countries have agreed to serve as transit points for evacuees from Afghanistan. Potential Afghan refugees who have not been approved for resettlement in the US will be hosted at facilities in Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda, said Blinken.

Last Thursday, US President Joe Biden in an interview with ABC News said there are 50,000-65,000 Afghan allies, including their families, in need of evacuation.

The White House on Thursday announced via Twitter that “since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 95,700 people. Since the end of July, we have re-located approximately 101,300 people.”

According to US advocacy group the Association of Wartime Allies, some 83,731 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders and their families remain in Afghanistan. The group on its website said only 4.8% of the SIV holders in Afghanistan had been evacuated as of Aug. 14.

Meanwhile, the UK Defense Ministry said Thursday that at least 11,474 people have been evacuated since Aug. 13 as part of the country’s Operation Pitting. It said on Twitter that 6,946 of those people are Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) claimants.

The UK’s ongoing Operation Pitting is a military operation to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan.

The UK government’s resettlement scheme, ARAP, will welcome up to 20,000 Afghan nationals who are at risk.

UK prioritizes women, girls, religious and other minorities

“Priority will be given to women and girls and religious and other minorities who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanizing treatment by the Taliban,” said a government statement.

“I want to ensure that as a nation, we do everything possible to provide support to the most vulnerable fleeing Afghanistan so they can start a new life in safety in the UK,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said previously.

Germany meanwhile announced Wednesday that has evacuated over 4,500 people from Afghanistan.

“Up to now, we have shuttled more than 4,500 people with Bundeswehr flights out of Afghanistan. Around 3,700 of the evacuees are Afghan nationals, [and] women and girls make up about 50% of that number,” the German Foreign Office said on Twitter.

Noting that “many journalists and human rights activists are among those who have been flown out,” Germany plans to grant asylum to around 10,000 Afghans, as Chancellor Angela Merkel previously said.

Following the start of evacuations from Kabul, the state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) expressed its readiness to receive 1,800 people from Afghanistan. According to a report by the Info Migrants website, Germany’s southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg is expected to take in about 1,100 local Afghan staff along with their relatives. The report further said that the state of Lower Saxony would provide 400 spots in initial reception facilities. Other states such as Bremen, Hamburg and Bavaria have also offered to take in Afghan staff.

In addition, the first batch of evacuees from Afghanistan arrived in Uganda on Wednesday.

“The 51 evacuees, who included men, women, and children, underwent the necessary security screening as well as the mandatory COVID-19 testing and the required quarantine procedures,” said the Ugandan Foreign Ministry.

Ugandan officials said last week that at the US’ request, the country would shelter up to 2,000 people fleeing Afghanistan.

They will stay in hotels. Uganda will be used as a transit point before they are taken to a third country.

In addition, Rwanda’s Education Ministry told Anadolu Agency earlier that some 250 students of the Afghanistan Leadership School are to be hosted in the East African country.

South Korea takes in around 380 Afghan refugees

South Korea on Wednesday announced that it will take in about 380 Afghan nationals who worked with its embassy and other organizations.

According to Yonhap News Agency, an official from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said military planes will airlift the Afghans from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad on Thursday.

Among the Afghans are medical professionals, vocational trainers, IT experts and interpreters who worked for South Korea’s Embassy and its humanitarian and relief organizations in Afghanistan as well as their family members.

Mexico has also accepted five members of an Afghan girls’ robotics team who arrived in the country after their evacuation from Kabul.

“Welcome to your home,” Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard told the group of five women and a man — the first to arrive in the country from Afghanistan — in the capital Mexico City on Tuesday.

According to Canada’s CBC news, the country’s Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said over 2,700 Canadians, Afghan refugees and other foreign nationals had been evacuated as of Aug. 24.

CBC also reported that local social agencies are getting ready to host at least 40 Afghan refugees to Edmonton over the next few weeks.

Quebec’s immigration minister said recently on Twitter that around 300 refugees will soon be arriving in the province.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan after taking Kabul on Aug. 15, with President Ashraf Ghani and other top officials leaving the country.

The unexpected power grab has triggered a rush to flee Afghanistan, including civilians who assisted foreign soldiers or groups and now fear the Taliban’s retribution.


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