Afghan refugee flight arrives in Spain from Pakistan

300 Afghans who worked for Spain were flown to Madrid one year after Taliban takeover

Published: 09:20 AM, 11 Aug, 2022
Afghan refugee flight arrives in Spain from Pakistan
Caption: Family members of Afghans who collaborated in Afghanistan with the Spanish authorities arrive from Islamabad in an airplane chartered by Spain, at the Torrejón de Ardoz military air base, eastern Madrid.–AFP
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A plane carrying around 300 Afghans who worked for Spain and their families arrived in Madrid from Pakistan on Wednesday, one year on from the Taliban's return to power in Kabul.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares was at Madrid's Torrejon de Ardoz airbase to meet them when the flight from Islamabad landed at Madrid's Torrejon de Ardoz airbase at around 10:15 pm (2015 GMT).

The government would now work "to help these people to integrate, given that it will be difficult for them to return to Afghanistan in the near future", Albares told reporters at the airport.

Like other Western nations, Spain in August 2021 rushed to evacuate Afghans who helped Spanish troops and diplomats, as Taliban insurgents made rapid territorial gains across Afghanistan.

Spain evacuated more than 2,000 people during the Western withdrawal as the Taliban seized power.

Most of them were Afghans at risk of reprisals from the new Taliban rulers for having worked for Spanish forces or the Spanish embassy during nearly two decades of NATO presence in Afghanistan.

But the flights had to stop once the final US troops that had been protecting Kabul's airport left at the end of August 2021.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at the time that Madrid would not "lose interest in the Afghans who had remained" in their country but wanted to leave.

Since then a handful of planes have brought hundreds more Afghan citizens to Spain who had managed to cross into other nations such as Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.

Madrid sent some 27,000 troops to Afghanistan over almost 20 years of involvement in the conflict. A total of 102 of its soldiers died.

Kabul airport: Symbol of chaotic US exit

Tens of thousands of Afghan men, women and children rushed to Kabul's airport a year ago in a desperate bid to flee the advancing Taliban, who seized power on August 15, 2021.

Images of crowds storming parked planes, climbing atop aircraft and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway were aired in news bulletins around the world.

The Taliban's lightning offensive against government forces triggered a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign troops, stunning the international community.

The ensuing chaos was nowhere more evident than at Kabul airport as crowds of people rushed to be evacuated on any available flight out of the country.

An AFP photographer captured images of the panic that symbolised Washington's turbulent withdrawal after two decades of military intervention that began after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

For days, thousands of people attempted to push through barricades set up by the Taliban, Afghan forces and US marines, who often fired in the air to push them back.

Panic struck the crowd just days before the US pullout on August 31.

On August 26, a suicide bomber blew himself up not far from the entrance to the airport, killing scores of people including 13 US service members.

The jihadist Islamic State group claimed the attack.

One year on, Taliban authorities gave AFP photographers access to the airport to shoot the facility and areas that were trashed last year.

The airport is now back to some kind of normalcy, with a few domestic and international flights operating.

But significant support is needed for major foreign airlines to resume a full schedule from the facility.

Taliban authorities have tasked an Abu Dhabi-based firm with ground handling services and security screening of passengers.

Air traffic control is the responsibility of Afghans trained by experts from Uzbekistan and Qatar.

Kabul airport's return to full operations is seen as crucial to reviving Afghanistan's shattered economy.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.