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Nasrullah Alizada sits on a chair in a waiting room at Emirates Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi.
He and his wife are surrounded by their four children, who are running between the legs of the complex’s staff as they search a cardboard box full of Afghan passports.
They are members of Afghanistan’s Hazara community, who are mostly Shiites and were persecuted by the Taliban their previous rule, so Mr Alizada knew they would not be safe if they stayed. He rushed his family to the airport, where they were ushered on to an evacuation flight bound for the UAE.
“You cannot imagine what we went through, just at Kabul airport,” he said.
“I have never seen that many people in such a small area. I saw on Facebook that there were huge explosions there [on Thursday night]. We are so lucky we got out in time.”
The Alizada family is being housed in Emirates Humanitarian City, along with thousands of other Afghans, while their paperwork for onward travel to the US is processed.
A total of 8,500 Afghans are currently being sheltered in the complex, 5,000 of whom arrived on US military aircraft. The remainder were brought to the Emirates either on UAE-owned evacuation planes or aircraft chartered by private entities or NGOs.
Many have US-issued Special Immigrant Visas, which are given to Afghans who were employed by the US military or other American entities, often as interpreters. Most of the evacuees at Humanitarian City will eventually travel on to the US.
The first group departed from Abu Dhabi International Airport on Saturday evening, on a specially chartered Etihad Airways flight bound for Washington. There, US authorities will inform them of their final destination.
Flying the evacuees safely to the UAE was the result of a “huge effort”, says Ethan Goldrich, Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
“The UAE has been very hospitable to provide them with a place to stay so that they can go through processing while awaiting transit to the US.”
In the Humanitarian City, Afghans receive medical treatment in the City’s clinic. In the waiting area, Massoud, a father of four who worked for a US military contractor in Kabul, flags down a nurse. His 5-month-old son is having trouble with his throat. The journey has been hard on his children, he tells The National, but he knows it will all be worthwhile once they arrive in the US.
“I am worried that my children will not have any memories of Afghanistan,” he says.
“But at least they will have a chance to make something of themselves. We are so grateful for that.”
Evacuees at Emirates Humanitarian City have their non-medical needs met by a team of volunteers, with assistance from Emirates Red Crescent, Abu Dhabi Police and the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority. A two-storey facility in the City houses boxes of supplies, including toiletries, phone chargers, baby formula and clothing of all sizes. Evacuees are given a WhatsApp number for the volunteers, who are available 24 hours a day.
There are some speakers of Afghanistan’s national languages, Dari and Pashto, among the volunteers, but others have been using Google Translate to get by, and it has worked well. To one side in their base of operations is a small table with stacks of used coffee cups, a quiet sign of how demanding the work can be.
“We are here for whatever they need,” a volunteer says. “We are not going anywhere.”