The first phase of the Belgian Operation Red Kite to evacuate people from Kabul has been finalised; however, the mission will continue from Islamabad and on the ground in Belgium.
All Belgians who were able to make it to Kabul airport have now been evacuated, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said during a press conference on the situation in Afghanistan on Thursday, explaining that the decision was taken to ensure the safety of the Belgians on the ground.
“Evacuations from the airport stopped at 9:30 PM when the last flight landed in Islamabad,” he said.
“The situation around the airport has been dangerous and chaotic from the start but yesterday we received reports at a military level that suicide attacks were being planned within this mass of waiting people,” De Croo added.
According to De Croo, the access to the gates was also being closed. “We don’t want to be in a situation where our military personnel and diplomats can no longer leave the airport,” he explained.
He said the Belgian Foreign Affairs department has communicated with those still on the ground to warn them that the danger of such threats increased substantially.
“We have made agreements with other countries that we will continue to support each other and repatriate others as well,” De Croo added.
Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder explained that the situation was becoming increasingly risky as more and more people who were in charge of managing the airport are leaving.
“We have asked the Americans to stay as long as possible or as long as we still have left to evacuate Belgian people or vulnerable people,” she added.
So far, the Belgian mission has rescued around 1,400 people from Kabul through 23 rotations of the C-1300 planes.
According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès, this includes 1,100 people who fall under Belgian responsibility – people with Belgian nationality and their families – but also people who “would run an extreme risk if they stayed on the ground.”
Hundreds of others have been brought to safety by Belgium at the request of other countries, including the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The number of people under Belgian responsibility who are still on the ground and want to leave the country remains unclear, both Wilmès and Dedonder stated.
A notice has been put out to at least 114 people who are thought to still be in Afghanistan, but this list has to be cross-checked with other lists of people who are already in Belgium.
“We know there are still people in Kabul, some have not been able to reach the airport, others want to stay for family members, some have been able to leave through other means, so these lists need to be compared,” Wilmès said.
“You have to be careful with the figures given, as these are lists that are still in motion and these figures are constantly changing, we are looking at lists of ambassadors but also lists of people who have already arrived,” Dedonder said.
De Croo stressed that those on the ground will be given support and will be contacted by the consular personnel in Islamabad.
Material help is still available on the ground, De Croo said, meaning the operation is not yet fully completed. However, the large teams that were present at the airport and in Islamabad over the last few days have been reduced.
“An end to our evacuations does not mean an end to the help given to people, our teams in Islamabad are still doing everything to support people who are still on the ground,” he added.
According to State Secretary for Asylum, Sammy Mahdi, around 350 people have already arrived in the barracks in Peutie, including people who were in danger in Afghanistan because they are on a Taliban blacklist.
“It was our humanitarian duty to save our compatriots who found themselves in danger and to guarantee their safety,” he said.
A four-fold check, including against lists from OCAD but also military intelligence information, will be done for those who have been evacuated from Afghanistan at the military base in Peutie, to ensure no one “who poses a risk to Belgium” will make it into the country, Dedonder explained.
Mahdi also stressed that the immigration offices and foreign affairs department are on the ground in Peutie to process the list of people.