MADRID — The president of the European Commission has urged the international community to open arms for Afghan refugees.
Ursula von der Leyen made the remarks on Saturday when she and EU Council President Charles Michel visited a reception center for evacuees established by Spain’s government near Madrid.
“This resettlement of vulnerable people is of utmost importance. It is our moral duty,” Von der Leyen said. Offering “legal and safe routes globally, organized by us, the international community, for those who need protection” must be a priority of next week’s G7 meeting on the Afghanistan crisis, she added.
The EU’s top officials toured the facility that Spain has set up at the Torrejón military airbase near Madrid along with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who said it has the capacity to hold 800 people.
Two planes sent by Spain’s government have already arrived at the air base. A first plane brought back five Spaniards and 48 Afghans who had worked for Spain and their families. A second flight arrived late on Friday night with 110 more Afghans. A third flight with another 110 passengers has left Kabul for Dubai, which Spain is using as a stop-off point before the evacuees are flown on to Madrid.
The air base is also receiving flights from the European Union External Action service with other evacuees from Afghanistan airlifted out of Kabul by other EU countries.
EU officials and those of member states like Spain, however, recognize that the main hurdle to getting people out of Afghanistan is helping them reach and gain access to the airport. Spain says that its flights have had empty seats.
Von der Leyen said EU delegation members are constantly at the airport to try and help. “It is very difficult situation, it is changing by the minutes, but there is intense work being done to make the best of a very difficult situation.”
The evacuees that reach Spain’s air base are expected to spend up to three days there before moving to welcome centers in other parts of Spain or continuing their journeys to other European countries.
Sánchez said that the response from other EU members has been positive and that part of those who have arrived have already left for other countries in the bloc.
MORE ON THE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN:
— In Kabul, a fearful wait for US to deliver on evacuation vow
— Europe fears Afghan refugee crisis after Taliban takeover
— AP PHOTOS: Two decades of war, and daily life in Afghanistan
— Biden vows to evacuate all Americans — and Afghan helpers
— For US military leaders, Afghan news strikes personal chord
— Western groups desperate to save Afghan workers left behind
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Many people in west London with family members trying to get out of Afghanistan are seeking advice and information from a local organization set up to support Afghan and Central Asian refugees 20 years ago, the same year a U.S.-led international force drove the Taliban from power after the 9/11 attacks.
Shah Hamdam, 52, said he would do anything to get his sister, a television journalist, out of Kabul, now that the Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan.
“She is begging,” Hamdam said. “She says, ‘Find a solution, find a way for me to get out of this situation at the moment.’ I try, I try, I knock every door to find a way to bring her over if possible.”
Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi, founder and director of the Afghanistan & Central Asian Association, left Afghanistan with his young family when the Taliban were in charge in 1999. He said his organization has received hundreds of emotional telephone calls in recent days from people in Afghanistan, including vacationing British Afghans caught up in the sudden and chaotic turn of events.
“Those people will face a serious humiliation, persecution and torture by the Taliban just because they were working with Western organizations,” Nasimi said.
BERLIN — Two small German military helicopters that were sent to Kabul in a move coordinated with the United States had been assembled and were ready for action on Saturday, German officials said.
The idea is for them to be used in Kabul if individual evacuees need to be picked up by helicopter and brought to the airport. But Germany’s top military commander, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, said “there is no concrete plan yet for their deployment.”
Zorn said the situation remains difficult at the gates of the airport in the Afghan capital. The number of people German planes have taken out has varied.
A German flight arrived in Tashkent on Friday night with 172 evacuees on board, but two subsequent flights — also with an Airbus A400M — carried out only seven and eight people.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Germany so far has evacuated nearly 2,000 people. “The situation is difficult, but with our capabilities and everything that comes up on the ground, we will keep on taking out as many as possible,” she said.
PARIS — France’s says it has evacuated over 570 people, including at least 407 Afghan citizens, from Kabul onboard its military aircraft since Monday.
In a statement, the Defense Ministry added that a fourth evacuation plane landed Friday evening in Paris, carrying 4 French citizens and 99 Afghans, mostly people who worked with the French government or French groups in Afghanistan.
The ministry said that state services and the French embassy, which has been moved to Kabul airport, remain “fully mobilized to ensure new flights as soon as possible.”
French president Emmanuel Macron promised Monday that France would not abandon Afghans who worked for the country and would also seek to protect journalists, artists, activists and others under threat after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force says the cargo plane packed with Afghan refugees whose photo was widely shared online actually carried even more people than originally thought — 823 — and marked a new passenger record for the aircraft.
The brief statement by the Air Mobility Command on Friday said the C-17 that departed the capital, Kabul, last Sunday had an initial count of 640 passengers, but that figure inadvertently left out 183 children sitting on people’s laps.
The statement said the correct count of 823 passengers is a record for the C-17. It took off as the Taliban swept into the city, prompting thousands of Afghans and foreigners to rush to the airport seeking flight out — with some reaching the tarmac.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch defense ministry says that the first group of Afghans evacuated from Kabul on Dutch military transport planes has arrived at a barracks in the northern Netherlands that has been transformed into a temporary accommodation center.
The ministry said Friday that a group of 28 Afghans has been taken to the center in Zoutcamp, a small village come 180 kilometers (120 miles) north of Amsterdam.
Dutch authorities say they have so far managed five flights out of Kabul with nearly 300 passengers. It is not clear how many of them were Afghans.
The Dutch government is seeking to evacuate Afghan nationals and their families who worked for the country’s military during its deployment and for the embassy as well as staff at aid projects.
MILAN — Italy says its military has evacuated nearly 1,000 Afghan citizens out of Kabul over the last five days.
The Defense Ministry said that two flights carrying 207 Afghans arrived Saturday in Rome from Kuwait, which Italy is using as a staging ground for the Kabul evacuations.
Italy has deployed more than 1,500 servicemen and women to operate an airbridge from Kabul to Kuwait aboard four C130J aircraft, and to ferry evacuees to safety in Italy aboard four KC767s.
Italy began what it has dubbed Operation Aquila Omnia in June, bringing to safety 1,532 Afghan citizens to date. Eighty, including 33 women, arrived on Saturday at a base in South Tyrol, northern Italy, for a 10-day COVID quarantine.
In a video distributed by the ministry, an Afghan man who was brought to the base thanked “the Italian armed forces, who didn’t leave us alone in Afghanistan. With all the difficulty, they brought us away.” Speaking with his back to the camera, he said the journey took two days. “We are tired. We are happy. We are now in a safe country,’’ he said, expressing also hope that one day “if Afghanistan becomes safe, we can return to our country.”
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s foreign ministry says that a military aircraft has evacuated 14 Romanian citizens and four Bulgarians from Kabul airport to Islamabad.
It said in a statement Friday evening that another Romanian citizen, a United Nations employee, could not reach Kabul airport because of security issues, adding that it will look to partner states to identify possible evacuation options.
Authorities said the evacuees were assisted on arrival by Romanian Embassy staff in Pakistan. It was Romania’s third evacuation flight this week using a C-130 Hercules military aircraft.
The ministry also said that it has “validated and contacted” a number of Afghan citizens who collaborated with its troops during their mission in Afghanistan who have expressed a wish to be evacuated to Romania.
But the “extremely difficult” security situation around Kabul airport meant that none of the Afghan citizens could reach the airport. “In their case,” the ministry said. “(We) will continue to act to identify evacuation options.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The island kingdom of Bahrain has said it is “allowing flights to make use of Bahrain’s transit facilities” amid the evacuations of Afghanistan.
The kingdom made the announcement in a statement released early Saturday.
Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf off Saudi Arabia, is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The announcement comes as the U.S. faced issues Friday with its facilities at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar filling up with those fleeing the Taliban takeover of the country.
The kingdom also said it is hoping that “all parties will commit to stabilizing the internal situation and to protecting the lives of civilians and the rule of law.”
KABUL, Afghanistan — Senior U.S. military officials say that the processing of passengers inside the Kabul airport has begun, but that there is a considerable backlog of people waiting to fly to Qatar.
Gates to the Hamid Karzai International Airport were closed overnight due to overcrowding in the area, and processing began Saturday morning. It would be roughly 5 to 9 hours before the backlog clears and more people could be allowed in through the gates.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss ongoing military operations.
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken says 13 countries have thus far agreed to at least temporarily host at-risk Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan. Another 12 have agreed to serve as transit points for evacuees, including Americans and others, leaving Afghanistan.
Blinken said in a statement that potential Afghan refugees not already cleared for resettlement in the United States will be housed at facilities in Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda.
Transit countries include Bahrain, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan, he said.
“We deeply appreciate the support they have offered, and are proud to partner with them in our shared support of the Afghan people,” Blinken said. “We are encouraged by other countries that are also considering providing support. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas and to fulfill our commitments to citizens of partner nations and at-risk Afghans.”