Hundreds rescued from Afghanistan arrive in Dubai on military flight

Evacuation plane carried UK and EU citizens plus Afghan interpreters rescued from Taliban-controlled Kabul

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At a deserted Dubai World Central a military evacuation flight landed from Kabul loaded with passengers fleeing the turmoil of a nation on its knees.

The ghostly feel matched the atmosphere of recent days as the rush to leave Kabul accelerated and the stranglehold of the Taliban on Afghanistan strengthened.

The faces of those arriving on a windswept, dusty runway in the desert, only a few kilometres outside of the city, told only half the story of the unfolding drama.

The UAE is a committed and steadfast member of the international community and is exerting significant effort to safeguard those in need
Sultan Al Shamsi, UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation

The scenes from Hamid Karzai International Airport that were relayed around the world gave a brief snapshot of the turmoil and danger many of those on board faced in the previous few days.

At 3.45pm the first passengers on RAF flight ZZ172 set foot on safe ground at Dubai World Central. Women and children could be seen from the runway walking carefully down the steep loading deck and into a waiting bus to be transported to the airport terminal.

From there they will be transferred to a commercial aircraft to be flown to the UK within the next 24 hours.

After arriving in the terminal waiting lounge, one middle-aged man dressed smartly in a shalwar kameez and clutching a toddler raised his fingers in a victory salute. His face mask could barely hide his elation as his eyes danced with joy and relief.

Almost all passengers looked to be together in families, mainly women and children. Some arrived without luggage, their clothing and possessions stuffed into black bin bags, a sign of the urgent circumstances under which they left their homes.

Airport staff handed out welfare packages, lunch boxes and cool drinks while children were handed biscuits and sweets.

Many looked bewildered at their new surroundings, a far cry from what they had left behind.

Arrivals were being processed by diplomatic staff but there was no sign of any of the usual PCR testing on arrival seen at other airports in the UAE. Embassy officials said exceptions to regulations could be made in extreme circumstances.

Fleeing for their lives

This latest flight carried British citizens, embassy staff and Afghans covered by the UK government's Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy. Dominic Raab, the UK's Foreign Secretary, praised the UAE for its help. "[I] spoke to Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed [UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation] to thank him for the UAE’s support to deploy UK staff and military personnel to Afghanistan and bring home UK nationals and those who have supported the UK’s work for the last 20 years," said Mr Raab.

The relatively new scheme offers emergency relocation to current and former locally employed staff of the UK mission in Afghanistan such as patrol interpreters, cultural advisers and those who held development, political and counterterrorism jobs.

If they are deemed to be in danger now the Taliban are in control of the country they will be offered priority relocation to the UK regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.

"We have processed over 1,600 eligible personnel through the UAE en route to the UK," a representative of the UK Embassy in UAE said.

"Seven outbound flights have departed the UAE to the UK. Today, three inbound flights will arrive from Hamid Karzai International Airport (in Kabul), with five outbound flights departing for the UK."

More than 5,000 international diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been flown out of the stricken country in the past 24 hours.

Reports say a steel ring of heavily armed Taliban fighters cut off airport access, limiting the numbers able to enter the airport and board flights out of the country on military aircraft.

Many chose to stay at home but plenty were still willing to run the gauntlet and try their luck with a rush to the airport to flee the country.

Some camped outside in the desperate hope of making it on to an evacuation flight to the UAE, or elsewhere.

Those lucky enough to make it out of the city did so after President Ashraf Ghani, who arrived with his family in the Emirates on Wednesday.

Other relief flights taking stricken British and EU citizens, as well as Afghan refugees, out of harm’s way landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire under similar operations.

Flights are set to continue for the days and weeks ahead but not all will be able to leave.

UAE assistance

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation confirmed it has enabled the evacuation of foreign citizens from Afghanistan before and during the continuing situation.

Assistant minister Sultan Al Shamsi said the focus of the UAE in recent days has been to help a range of nations and non-governmental organisations to safely evacuate their officials and support staff, including some Afghan citizens, through UAE airports and on to their final destinations.

“The UAE is a committed and steadfast member of the international community and is exerting significant effort to safeguard those in need,” he said.

“The UAE is also working with its international partners to advance efforts to achieve the aspirations of the Afghan people for peace, development, and stability."

French authorities also thanked the UAE for helping its citizens to leave Afghanistan. Florence Parly, France's Minister of the Armed Forces, offered her gratitude during a phone call to Mohammed Al Bawardi, UAE Minister of State for Defence Affairs.

The first French military plane carrying French citizens from Afghanistan landed overnight in Abu Dhabi, Ms Parly said on Tuesday.

Passengers evacuated from Afghanistan land in Europe - in pictures

Updated: August 22, 2021, 9:10 AM