Kabul evacuees touch down in UAE on way to new life in UK

by Mohamad Ali Harissi

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AFP) — Dozens of evacuees from Afghanistan waited nervously to board a Britain-bound Royal Air Force plane during a stopover in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday after fleeing the Taliban takeover.

At Dubai’s Al-Maktoum airport, a steady stream of aircraft ferrying passengers from Kabul and onwards to Britain shuttled back and forth as London stepped up its evacuation efforts.

Dozens of exhausted passengers waited at one of the departure gates during a stopover ahead of the second leg of what they hoped would be their journey to safety.

“They were eager to leave the plane and get some rest,” said one airport employee.

Three children wearing traditional Afghan dress ran in circles around a woman dressed in black, and a masked man holding a toddler flashed a victory sign.

One boy holding two red and black backpacks jiggled his leg nervously during the wait for the plane that would carry him to Britain to arrive.

British embassy staff and airport employees in bright yellow vests stood at the gate giving instructions to the waiting group.

“We have processed over 1,600 eligible (individuals) through the UAE en route to the UK,” said an embassy spokesman.

Five fights were due to leave the UAE for Britain taking passengers from three flights arriving from Afghanistan on Thursday, the official added.

Before boarding the evacuees were handed packed lunch boxes containing sandwiches and juice boxes, with members of a medical team on standby near the departure gate if needed.

As they waited, another group of passengers from Afghanistan en route to Britain disembarked an RAF transport plane emblazoned with a small Union flag and walked towards an airport bus.

Evacuations to continue

Back in Kabul, thousands of Afghans crowded between Taliban checkpoints and a ring of steel around the city’s main airport, desperate to board any flight out following the return of the Taliban.

Distressing images have emerged of people desperately trying to get on any departing flight, even resorting to clinging to the fuselage of a US military aircraft as it rolled down the runway for take-off.

“We haven’t sent out a single empty plane,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News, adding that unfilled seats had been allocated to NATO allies.

Wallace has said 2,000 Britons and Afghan employees will be called by Britain to leave Afghanistan in the days ahead.

But the government has faced questions over where the evacuees will be taken when they land in Britain.

London has said that evacuations will continue for as long as the United States continues to undertake its own evacuation operations at Kabul airport.

Some 306 UK nationals and around 2,000 Afghans have left for Britain under the government resettlement programme, Wallace said.

“The UK government’s ambition is for the new Afghanistan citizens’ resettlement scheme to resettle 5,000 Afghan nationals who are at risk due to the current crisis, in its first year,” the British government said in a statement Wednesday.

The UAE has become a hub for evacuations from Afghanistan, with French authorities using the capital Abu Dhabi as a stepping stone to transfer its nationals back to France.

Abu Dhabi said in a statement it had “worked with its international partners to contribute to global relief efforts in Afghanistan.”

© Agence France-Presse