Walking along the runway at the US military airbase in Al Udeid as recently as 2 a.m., an Afghan woman pounced on an American airman in an attempt to snatch a gun from him. leg. As other soldiers rushed to contain her, the woman screamed and struggled, determined to kill herself. Then he winced and started to cry.
Her family was wiped out in the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, and she barely got on one of the flights that evacuated people from Kabul. Now she was hundreds of miles from her country – all alone.
“Please, please, please,” she pleaded, panting, as the orange and yellow lights of the evacuee-filled buses lit up, illuminating her flooded face. of tears.
Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the exodus of Afghans has intensified like a flood, inundating US military bases in places like Qatar, which has hosted tens of thousands of people over the past two weeks. ‘evacuated to undergo triage by US authorities.
But as the international evacuations wind down, attention turns to the plight of those who are part of the massive, sudden and unforeseen exodus. In just two weeks, more than 5,000 US military personnel in Kabul have helped evacuate more than 114,000 people, in a chaotic effort and in several violent moments that reflect the astonishing speed with which the Taliban have taken control of the country.
When insurgents entered the capital, Kabul, crowds of desperate people flocked to the city’s international airport, scrambling to board flights that led to an evacuation. During the landing in Qatar, which played a crucial role in the evacuation efforts, some Afghans knelt in tears, believing they had arrived in the United States.
The flood of evacuees already promises to create many legal, bureaucratic and logistical problems. Many Afghans who board flights may not meet relocation requirements to the United States. Those who qualify risk overwhelming American organizations tasked with meeting basic needs of newly arrived refugees, such as housing, food and medical care. These entities generally only receive a small steady influx of newly arrived refugees.
In treatment centers, people’s relief for having fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is met with difficulties in leaving their country and starting over. In the midst of the exodus, the collective sense of mourning for those who mourn what Afghanistan was like in the past gives way to people’s fear of what will happen to their lives outside the country.
“When I think of my family, their situation, I am not mentally well,” said Zahra, 28, who left last week on an evacuation flight to Doha, the capital of Zatar. “And when we get to America, we don’t know what’s going to happen there. Are we going to find a job, are we going to move into a good place, are we going to be able to build a better life? Like others interviewed for this report, she requested that only her first name be used, to avoid retaliation.
Since arriving in Doha, Zahra remembers in her head what a Taliban guard told her: that once she left the country, she could never come back.
In Afghanistan, she spent nearly a week preparing to flee as she watched several provincial capitals fall in rapid succession. So, two days after the insurgents invaded Kabul, she rushed to the airport with her mother, brothers and their families.
They spent over an hour pleading with Taliban guards outside the airport gate before the insurgents let them pass. But as the crowd behind her moved forward, she heard the Taliban shoot in the air and felt her mother’s hand slip from hers. When she turned to look, she saw Taliban guards pushing the group behind her. Her mother and the rest of her family were swallowed up by the crowd.
Only Zahra, her brother-in-law and her children made it through the portal. Last week, they joined the ranks of thousands of other Afghans who arrived at the treatment center at Al Udeid Air Base.
Inside the plane hangar, exhausted children lay on a patchwork of army cots, sports stains left by babies in need of diapers. With air conditioning in only part of the hangar, the atmosphere was stifling in the 46 degree heat. Plastic bottles and human waste piled up in the toilet stalls. Mattresses covered the floors of giant tents lit with fluorescent lights, and hundreds of people rushed to settle in. A makeshift playground has been set up for children outside the tents.
Overworked US military personnel have worked tirelessly to provide medical care, food and water to the unexpected influx of new arrivals, while immigration officials vet them. But the initial influx of Afghans exceeded the filtering capacity at the site, raising fears that a humanitarian disaster could take shape in the treatment centers.
Pentagon chief spokesman John F. Kirby said on Tuesday: “We will be the first to admit that some conditions at Al Udeid could have been better.” He noted that the problems were exacerbated “by the large number of evacuees and the speed with which they arrived”.
To ease the pressure on the Doha transitional residence center, the US military has started sending evacuees to US bases in Germany, Italy, Spain and Bahrain, Kirby said. More than 100 additional toilets have been installed in Doha, as well as cleaning and meal delivery services.
After spending hours – or, in some cases, days – in Al Udeid, many Afghan evacuees are transferred to As Sayliyah camp, a former military base on the outskirts of Doha. The site includes shipping containers converted into temporary accommodation. The camp was set up for use in the months-long process of screening Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and applied for special immigration visas – a group that a few months ago was expected to reach no more than a few thousands of people. .
Instead, in the first frantic days of Taliban control, when rumors circulated that American planes were taking Afghans directly to the United States, thousands of people without passports, visas, or identity documents were swept away. invaded Kabul airport and were loaded onto planes bound for Doha.
Mirwais, 31, arrived at the Qatar air base after boarding an evacuation flight last week. A former translator for US forces and international organizations, he went into hiding when the Taliban entered Kabul and decided to leave the country when insurgents picked him up from his mother’s home.
“At that point, if I was still in Afghanistan, I would be dead,” he said. But he said that with each more day he spends at the camp, he loses hope not only to survive, but also to start a better life.
After spending days desperately calling relatives in an attempt to arrange the evacuation of his wife and ten-month-old son, Mirwais says he has all but given up hope of meeting them outside of Afghanistan. . And your chances of continuing your trip to the United States are far from guaranteed.
“I left without a passport, without any documents,” he said. “But if I don’t go to the United States, what will become of me?” How will I support my family?