Spanish government admits it will have to leave some Afghan refugees behind

Defense Minister Margarita Robles points to difficulty of accessing airport and ‘dramatic situation’ in the country as hampering evacuation effort of former collaborators and families

Afghan refugees arrive at the Torrejón de Ardoz airbase in Madrid on Monday.
Afghan refugees arrive at the Torrejón de Ardoz airbase in Madrid on Monday.Andrea Comas (AP)

The Spanish government admitted on Tuesday that there will be refugees that it cannot evacuate from Afghanistan, after the Taliban took control of the country more than a week ago. “We are going to get everyone possible out,” said Defense Minister Margarita Robles this morning, during an interview with the Cadena SER radio network. “There will be people that will have to stay for reasons that are beyond our control.” The minister added that it will be very difficult for those who are not already in Kabul to board a Spanish aircraft.

Questioned as to whether the Spanish government has already managed to evacuate the Afghans who have worked with the country’s authorities in recent years, Robles admitted that “there are still a lot of people” in Afghanistan. “The situation is quite frankly dramatic,” she continued. “Every day that passes is worse, because people are aware that the spaces are running out, there are more and more people in the airport, and everyone is exhausted. There are people that have spent days trying to reach the entrance points to the airport.”

Robles pointed out that many of the interpreters who worked for Spain do not live in Kabul, and that the journey from Herat province takes three days by car

The minister explained that as well as the crowds that have formed at the airport in the Afghan capital city, there is the issue of the aggressive behavior of the Taliban. A situation of violence is “very clear” and there are “ever tougher controls,” she added.

Robles also pointed out that many of the interpreters who worked for Spain do not live in Kabul, and that the journey from Herat province – one of the main areas where Spanish troops were posted – to the Afghan capital takes three days by car.

Evacuation cannot be guaranteed for those who manage to reach the city, she added, given that accessing the airport is also “very complicated.” “People will be left there for sure, but on the other hand we are going to keep trying until the end, we won’t let up at any time,” the minister stated.

The United States, whose forces are in control of the security at Kabul airport, had set August 31 as the deadline for the withdrawal of troops. However, President Joe Biden is discussing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff the possibility of extending that date. The continuation of the Spanish evacuation plan is linked to the US presence in the country. “We are awaiting the decision taken by the US in this sense,” Robles told Cadena SER.

The minister described the whole process as “incredibly tough” and explained that there are families who will have to return to their homes after spending 24 hours trying to access the airport. “If they go back to their houses they will also be marked,” she said.

According to the politician, the list put together by the government of personnel to be evacuated has been expanded, to include families who have proven special situations of links to Spain, or in many cases of persecution.

Women and children

“We are giving particular priority to women, those who have been activists, journalists or have had a special role in public life in Afghanistan,” she explained. Children are also being prioritized.

“The main problem is getting to Kabul in the first place,” she explained. “For those who haven’t got to Kabul, it will be very difficult, because the whole country has been taken.”

Robles also announced that between this afternoon and tomorrow morning three aircraft – two A400M military planes and a commercial flight – will arrive at the Madrid air base of Torrejón de Ardoz with around 420 people on board. Spain has secured permission for three evacuation flights from Kabul airport. The first two planes were already in Dubai earlier today with 290 people on board and another 130 were due to be evacuated from Kabul in the coming hours. Spain is using the air base as a hub for refugees who have worked for other European Union states. They are being processed in Madrid before being transferred to other countries as refugees.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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