Thousands of Afghans struggle to access Kabul airport as evacuation flights resume

Up to 200 flights have taken off and landed since airlift began again

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Evacuation flights have resumed from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, but thousands of people seeking to flee the Taliban remain waiting at the gates.

Some Kabul residents sought to leave after insurgents took control of Afghanistan's capital on Sunday. The insurgents had already taken most provinces.

The Taliban are coming,” people desperate to get into Kabul airport were heard screaming.

Many held up signs in protest, and begged the soldiers guarding the airport to allow them in, usually without success.

A Turkish soldier offers water to Turkish nationals waiting to board a Turkish Air Force plane at Kabul airport, Afghanistan.

Flights had been suspended after people rushed onto the runway, even clinging to taxiing aircraft. Up to four men died falling from aircraft after take-off.

Since flights resumed on Tuesday, up to 200 aircraft have taken off and landed at the airport, but many are reported to have left half empty, flight tracking websites say.

Safe Airspace conflict zone and risk database said international airlines have diverted flights crossing over Afghan airspace, warning that the area is “uncontrolled” and “nowhere is safe”.

Kabul residents reported seeing one aircraft after another taking off, as the evacuation effort was stepped up.

Reports from the US military say it has moved more than 3,200 so far.

But one of Germany’s first flights out – with a capacity of 145 – carried just seven people.

Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer blaming a “confused, dangerous and complex situation at the airport” for the country’s failure to evacuate more.

Ramin Rahman, an Afghan photographer evacuated to Qatar on a US C-17 transport aircraft on Sunday described the situation as frantic.

“A lot of people at the airport had visas and tickets, but there were no flights to take them out,” he told The National.

“Others didn’t have documents. At night, when less people were around, many just ran and jumped on to the plane. They saw an opportunity. A lot of them are here now, in Qatar,”

On Wednesday, many people who had confirmed places on evacuation flights were not even able to reach the tarmac.

“Today was worse than yesterday,” an Afghan government employee said, asking to remain anonymous.

“When we saw the crowds we turned around. It was impossible to even get near to the gate. The crowds are violent and gunshots have been fired.”

A woman with German citizenship has been trying to get to the airport since Sunday, but has been unable to enter.

She said she was offered no assistance and the German embassy advised her to make her way to the north gate of the military side of the airport, bringing enough water and food for at least 24 hours.

Journalist Farshad Usyan left on a flight to France on Wednesday. He had previously sheltered at the French embassy in Kabul’s heavily fortified Green Zone – now occupied by Taliban militants.

He said he took a minibus organised by EU countries to Kabul airport.

“You won’t be able to reach the airport unless your transportation is arranged.”

Another Kabul resident, who asked to remain anonymous, also secured a place on a minibus.

“The EU arranged a bus for my family and other families of Afghans who formerly worked with the EU missions. They will pick us up from a safe pre-designated location in Kabul and bring us to our flight.

“I am so sad. I never thought that one day, I would be looking for asylum.”

As the Taliban have moved into the city, setting up checkpoints, hundreds of people are camping outside the airport's perimeter. They are hopeful of making it on to a flight, even without a visa or a passport.

As evacuation lists circulate, containing the names of thousands of Afghans, an official familiar with US evacuation procedures said that the process will probably “take some time” – longer than a matter of days.

Updated: August 19th 2021, 5:21 AM