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Afghanistan: Belgium continues evacuations

People waiting to be evacuated from Kabul airport in August. Credit: Belga

Belgium’s evacuations from Afghanistan continue in the wake of the American withdrawal from the country and the subsequent Taliban victory there.

As people in Afghanistan crowded the airport in Kabul in a desperate attempt to flee the new regime, Belgium has been attempting to assist with flights.

Yesterday, Belgium was able to fly some 250 people from the Afghan capital to Islamabad, in Pakistan, in complete safety, according to reporting from VRT.

Previous attempts haven’t always been as successful: on Friday, a Belgian evacuation flight could only take 16 Belgians to Islamabad.

One plane even had to fly back empty after no one was able to board due to the chaos at and around the airport.

In the course of the evening on that Friday, 17 Belgians did manage to fly to Islamabad on a Dutch evacuation flight.

The bus containing the first 34 Belgians airlifted out of Afghanistan arrived Saturday night in a military barracks at Peutie by Vilvoorde.

Those Belgians first flew on a Dutch plane from Islamabad to Schiphol in Amsterdam, and were evacuated to that city before the weekend, and therefore not part of the most recent group of 250 from yesterday.

The Dutch Ministry of Defence reported that 150 people were on that flight in total.

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VRT reports that all 34 of those first Belgians to arrive have since been allowed to leave Peutie following a successful security screening.

“They had to be screened for safety and health,” explained the mayor of Vilvoorde, Hans Bonte (Vooruit).

“We need to check whether people have the right identity documents.”

Among the 250 people that Belgium was able to evacuate on Saturday, there were at least 100 Belgians, though it isn’t yet clear when they will be permitted to fly home.

“There is a lot involved in terms of organisation and logistics – all these people have to be screened very carefully for safety,” Bonte said. “The health services are also there to check whether they are infected with the coronavirus.”

“The people are received [in Peutie] and allowed to recover. They have to check whether people have the right identity documents. Then we have to see if people need to be taken to an institution, or can just be picked up and go home.”

It is not clear if and how many people are flying on to Belgium today from places like Islamabad.

Belgium wants to evacuate 580 people in total from the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, including Afghans who don’t have Belgian papers, but once worked for the Belgian army.

But the embarkation of passengers in Kabul is often fast and chaotic.

Four evacuation flights are planned between Kabul and Islamabad for Sunday, though it remains to be seen if these can take place and how many people can be picked up at the airport in Kabul.

More information is expected to become available around 5:00 PM today.

Prime Minister De Croo (Open VLD) will also convene the nuclear cabinet this afternoon to discuss the situation, and has made contacts for more coordination at European level.

The Brussels Times