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Thursday, September 23, 2021

How Qatar’s ambassador helped safely evacuate Afghans on the ground

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US President Joe Biden said “the largest airlift of people in history” would not have been possible without Qatar’s early support.

Qatar has been coordinating between NATO, the UN, the UK, the US and the Taliban to ensure that Afghans who worked with foreign troops and organisations are safely evacuated from the war-torn country.

A person with knowledge on Doha’s evacuations revealed to the Financial Times how the Gulf state was able to navigate the logistics of the evacuations while on the ground, detailing how staff from the Qatari embassy were involved in the mission, including the ambassador.

According to the source, Afghans being evacuated would be contacted by staff members at the diplomatic mission who process their details ahead of their move. Once it is safe to do so, the evacuees are then instructed to go to a hotel used by Qatar’s ambassador to Kabul, Saeed bin Mubarak Al Khayarin, where they are met with relevant personnel.

If an evacuee is at high risk and needs to pass through Taliban checkpoints to reach the hotel, Qatari staff would meet them at a safer destination.

To ensure safety for all those being evacuated, the evacuees are then transported to the section of the Kabul airport using diplomatic vehicles and buses and accompanied by the Qatari ambassador himself.

According to the source, the evacuees include Afghans who worked for governments, media organisations and non-governmental organisations. Qatar is one of the few countries that managed to facilitate the movement of evacuees through Taliban checkpoints.

Thousands of Afghans flocked to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after the Taliban captured the capital city on 15 August.

A day later, more than 800 Afghans and foreign workers boarded a C-17 military plane that departed from Afghanistan and landed in Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, the largest American military base in the region

As distressing scenes of panic at Kabul airport reverberated on screens worldwide, Qatar was the only Gulf state to join global calls for a “safe and orderly” departure for Afghans and foreign nationals.⁠⁠

All evacuees being transported by US forces from Afghanistan, including embassy staff, diplomats and Afghans who worked with the US over the years, are being temporarily hosted in Qatar before moving on to their final destinations.

Taliban to establish new government framework ‘soon’

On Saturday, Doha’s Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lolwah Al-Khater said that Qatar managed to evacuate over 300 students, mostly female, and more than 200 media personnel over the span of 72 hours.

“Many of them with their families and kids who are now safe in comfortable accommodation in Doha,” said Al-Khater, responding to a tweet by CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward.

On Thursday, Deputy Director of Qatar’s Government Communications Office [GCO] Thamer Al Thani said the Gulf state’s armed forces were working on evacuating hundreds of Afghan civilians including families, children, female students, professors and international journalists.

Among the evacuees were members of an Afghan girls’ robotics team, all of whom arrived in Qatar safely on Tuesday and will remain in the Gulf state to continue their education.

“The Digital Citizen Fund [DCF], the team’s parent organisation, is deeply grateful to the
government of Qatar for their outstanding support, which included not only expediting the visa process but sending a plane after outbound flights from Afghanistan were repeatedly cancelled,” read a statement by the team’s organisation.

Thousands of civilians have already arrived in Doha with more expected to land over the next few days. Refugees have been placed in the US’ Al Udeid Air Base, hotels, or have been safely transferred through the Hamad International Airport to their final destination.

Qatar is providing evacuees with PCR testing, access to quarantine, healthcare facilities and vaccination to ensure their safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN estimated that at least 400,000 people in Afghanistan have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of 2021, with the number expected to rise due to political instability.

The UK and Canada are among a number of countries expected to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees each. Other nations such as Uganda, Kosovo, Albania, and Northern Macedonia have also made plans to temporarily house refugees.

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden expressed his appreciation for Qatar’s evacuation efforts of foreign personnel in Afghanistan in a phone call with Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the White House announced.

“The President noted that this is the largest airlift of people in history and that it would not have been possible without the early support from Qatar to facilitate the transfer of thousands of people daily,” read the statement.

President Biden also thanked the Gulf state for hosting the intra-Afghan talks, which kicked off in September last year and brought together Afghanistan’s warring factions in Doha.


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