Attack at Kabul Airport Ends Civilian Evacuation

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Smoke rises from an explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26, 2021.
© 2021 Wali Sabawoon/AP Images

A set of bombing attacks at the southeast gate of Kabul’s international airport on Thursday killed over 60 Afghans and at least 12 US soldiers, and wounded many more. The airport’s gates have reportedly now been closed, apparently bringing an end to the massive civilian evacuation that had been underway. It appears that only people currently inside the airport will be placed on remaining flights. The evacuation of military forces is underway, and those of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, and Netherlands have departed.

Tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans were able to evacuate abroad, but many others identified for visas or resettlement were not. Afghans facing particular risk can now only flee by land routes, or seek shelter until flights become more feasible. Much will hinge on whether the Taliban permits civilian flights to resume, and whether at-risk Afghans will be permitted to leave.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has sharply added to the numbers of Afghans at risk both inside and outside the country. Concerned governments around the world need to help protect those currently in flight and who flee in the future.

The European Union has proposed a global refugee resettlement plan for Afghans. G7 members – France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, the EU, Canada, Japan, and the United States – should as a group support this, with European countries in the lead. The G7’s August 25 statement signaled support for coordinated efforts on refugee resettlement.

The United Nations Security Council needs to urgently address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and the future of the UN political mission there, among other issues. Governments, UN agencies, and humanitarian organizations will need to quickly adapt to difficult new working conditions in Afghanistan to continue their vital work aimed at saving lives and reporting on human rights, in particular the rights of women and girls and previously oppressed ethnic minorities.

It is vital that the underlying focus of all decisions be the human rights of Afghans themselves. It is also vital that the voices of Afghans be sought out and heard, especially those civil society activists who have played a critical role providing for ordinary Afghans across the country over the past 20 years. Helping to protect the human rights of the population may prove to be harder than ever, but the Afghan people, who have already suffered so much, could still suffer even more.

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