Spain brings evacuation operation in Kabul to an end

The country has received more than 1,900 people from Afghanistan since the air lifts began

Arrivals from Afghanistan at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid on Tuesday.
Arrivals from Afghanistan at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid on Tuesday.DPA vía Europa Press (Europa Press)

The Spanish government has officially concluded its evacuation operation from Afghanistan. The last two flights, two A400M military planes, arrived this morning in Dubai from Kabul, according to the Defense Ministry. The last 81 Spaniards who were still in the Afghan capital were on board, and included military personnel, police officers and staff from the embassy. All of them are due to arrive at the air base in Torrejón de Ardoz at 4.45pm on an Air Europa flight from Dubai.

Warnings from a number of Western countries of an imminent terrorist attack at Kabul airport came to pass yesterday, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device outside the site. A second bomb went off at a nearby hotel. Dozens were killed, including 13 US soldiers, according to the Pentagon. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) group has claimed responsibility for the atrocities.

The Spanish operation to evacuate Afghan nationals from Kabul airport had been due to end later today. By Thursday, more than 1,900 people had been flown to, and processed at, the provisional facilities installed at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid.

According to data supplied by the Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations Ministry, which is in charge of the mission, a total of 1,584 people had been received at the base. On Thursday evening, a further 95 passengers arrived on a flight chartered by the European External Action Service (EEAS), followed by an Air Europa flight carrying a further 240 Afghans who had worked with Western authorities in recent years and thus were at risk from the Taliban, who have taken over the Asian country in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops.

Of the arrivals, 726 were women and 858 men, while 631 minors were also received. Of all of the evacuees flown to Torrejón, 185 had worked with the European Union, and 177 of them were due to have been transferred to other EU states by Thursday evening. Another 131 had worked with the United States, all of whom had also been transferred. The average time that the evacuees have spent at the Madrid air base is 37 hours.

Of the asylum seekers, 759 have already been transferred to 14 of Spain’s regions

According to the latest figures from the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for processing international protection requests via the Asylum and Refugee Office, 1,340 people requested this status. These requests will be formalized in the coming days at the closest police station in the areas where the applicants are sent. The state shelter system has a total of 10,000 public places, but the government is planning to increase capacity to 15,000 by 2024, with investment of €174 million.

Of the asylum seekers, 759 have already been transferred to 14 of Spain’s regions, and a further 125 were due to join them on Thursday evening. Andalusia has received 49 people, Aragón 52, Asturias 32, the Balearic Islands three, Castilla y León 121, Castilla-La Mancha 31, Catalonia 121, Valencia 57, Extremadura 14, Galicia 18, Madrid 68, Murcia 41, Navarre 29 and the Basque Country 60. The total figure includes 63 people who are yet to be registered in the data supplied by official sources.

The Spanish shelter system counts on a program that lasts between 18 and 24 months, and includes two phases. The first involves temporary shelter, whether in ministry centers or in apartments managed by organizations such as the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) or the Red Cross. The second involves preparation for autonomy, during which families will be able to rent their own homes once their asylum request has been approved. The plan includes financial assistance to pay rent and cover basic needs, as well as offering social, legal and psychological advice, if necessary, as well as Spanish classes, professional training and assessment for seeking work.

Hotel stays

In order to keep spaces open ahead of possible new arrivals in Torrejón, the Spanish government was planning to house the evacuees that arrived on the EEAS flights on Thursday in hotels, as was revealed by online daily El Confidencial and later confirmed by sources from the Secretary of State for Migrations.

From there, and in conjunction with consular services, they will continue their journey on to other EU states to be taken in, given that these are not people seeking asylum in Spain.

The Inclusion Ministry is also planning to transfer some of the families of Afghans who worked with Spanish authorities and who arrived on the flight on Thursday from Dubai to hotels. The same sources reported that these will be the most vulnerable families – for example, those with babies, people with mobility problems or seniors.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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