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Saturday, January 22, 2022

‘Largest airlift of people in history’ not possible without Qatar: Biden


Qatar was the only Gulf state to join international calls for “a safe and orderly departure” for Afghans and foreign nationals.

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 on Saturday, 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.

Qatar is currently working with the UN, the US and other international partners to ensure Afghans and foreigners are safely evacuated from Kabul following a US and NATO troop withdrawal and the subsequent Taliban takeover.

Also on Saturday, Doha’s Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lolwah Al-Khater dismissed claims made by Western media over Qatar’s alleged refusal to accept more Afghans.

“I can only speak on Qatar evacuation missions, they will continue! In the past 72 hours we evacuated over 300 mostly female students and over 200 media personnel; many of them with their families & kids who are now safe in comfortable accommodation in Doha,” said Al-Khater, responding to a tweet by CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward.

The Qatari diplomat also discussed the developments in Afghanistan with British Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly.

“I thanked her for Qatar’s continued mediation role, and the help they have provided in getting British nationals back to the UK from Kabul,” said the British MP.

Qatar’s evacuation efforts

On Thursday, Deputy Director of Qatar’s Government Communications Office [GCO] Thamer Al Thani said the Gulf state’s armed forces are 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.

Hundreds 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.

Some of the refugees could also apply for jobs and residency in Doha per the country’s rules and regulations.

In recent weeks, officials have been echoing Doha’s stance in reaching a comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan that would bring stability and security in the country can “only be achieved through diplomacy and dialogue”.

Since events unravelled with the capture of Kabul last week, thousands of Afghans dropped all their belongings and desperately ran to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, with footage showing people latching onto aircrafts.

Among those were images of a C-17 military plane that departed from Afghanistan and landed in Qatar carrying more than 800 civilians. The aircraft was built to carry just 134 passengers.

UN refugee chief thanks Qatar for global humanitarian assistance amid Afghan crisis

Washington officials said human remains were found inside one of the plane’s wheels upon its arrival in Doha on Tuesday, confirming an investigation is now underway.

Qatar has joined over 50 countries worldwide in calling for “a safe and orderly departure” for Afghans and foreign nationals wanting to flee the country.

Doha was the only Gulf state on the list and joined Yemen as the only two Arab countries to sign the joint statement.

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.

“You have to realise it’s not a matter of whether they want to be killed or not…there are many more who believe that Afghanistan wouldn’t be a place they would like to live in,” Haroun Rahimi, assistant professor of law at the American University of Afghanistan, told Doha News.

Afghanistan was left under Taliban rule after former president Ashraf Ghani fled to Tajikstan before then moving to the UAE despite earlier vows to fight the group. Reports said he had landed in Abu Dhabi with “tonnes” of cash.

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