‘The world needs to help’: Germany scrambles to evacuate more people from Afghanistan

Hundreds more people from Afghanistan landed in Frankfurt early on Thursday as the frantic rescue operation continues.

'The world needs to help': Germany scrambles to evacuate more people from Afghanistan
Mahmud Sadjadi from Westerwald was evacuated from Kabul. He arrived at Frankfurt Airport on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Around 500 people were on board the two chartered planes operated by Lufthansa and Uzbekistan Airways that landed on German soil. The planes took off from the Uzbekistan capital Tashkent, where the Bundeswehr are desperately trying to evacuate people from the Afghan capital Kabul.

More flights from Tashkent were expected in Frankfurt on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Germany said it had already brought around 500 people out, including 202 Afghans, as the cabinet approved the deployment of up to 600 soldiers to Kabul to help the evacuation mission. 

On Thursday morning German officials said more than 900 people had so far been flown out of Kabul. 

States across the country have vowed to take in any refugees who arrived at short notice. 

READ ALSO: German states vow to take in thousands of refugees

After landing in Germany, some passengers reported horrific experiences and chaotic conditions in Kabul. “It’s terrible,” Mahmud Sadjadi said. “Helplessness, hopelessness. Just chaos.”

Sadjadi, who’s from Westerwald in western Germany and had been in Kabul for three weeks, said it was particularly dangerous at the airport in the Afghan capital.

“You have to go through a Taliban barrier, for example.” Afghan security forces were shooting, he said. He witnessed people dying. Without a passport, he said, it was impossible to get through to the airport.

Another passenger, who declined to give his name, reported organisational difficulties in returning. “The situation is difficult and not easy to bring under control,” he said. But the people of Afghanistan need help, he said. “The world needs to help the Afghan people.”

Sadjadi, who was met by his children in Frankfurt, thanked the German government for rescuing him, but also lamented the lack of information.

“There was no information on where to gather, when to gather,” he said. Sadjadi said people had been left alone, while other countries had collected their citizens and support staff in buses and taken them to the airport. “Thank God everything went well,” he added.

Still, he said, he thinks of the many people still in Afghanistan, including members of his own family.

The German government was slammed for its slow start to the rescue operation after the militant Islamist Taliban took power, but the mission has picked up pace. 

READ ALSO: Why a German military plane rescued just seven people from Kabul

Merkel and Biden gather for talks 

The news of the continued rescue attempts came as Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden discussed the perilous evacuation of foreigners and Afghan allies, the White House said.

In a phone call on Wednesday, the two leaders also talked about the need to coordinate humanitarian aid for vulnerable Afghans.

Biden and Merkel “praised the ongoing efforts of their military and civilian personnel who are working closely together in Kabul on the evacuation of their citizens, vulnerable Afghans, and the courageous Afghan nationals who worked tirelessly over the last 20 years,” the White House said in a statement.

It was the second phone call between Biden and a foreign leader that the White House has reported since the crisis erupted in Kabul with a lightning Taliban victory after two decades of war.

READ ALSO: Merkel urges coordinated Afghan refugee response from EU

On Tuesday, Biden talked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and they announced a virtual summit of G7 leaders that is due to take place next week.

The sudden Taliban victory has sparked fears of a large-scale humanitarian crisis both inside Afghanistan and possibly involving waves of refugees seeking asylum abroad, including in Western Europe.

For now, though, US and allied leaders are focused on an effort to safely extract thousands of their citizens and allies while the victorious Taliban consolidates its control over the country.

The G7, which Britain heads this year, comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

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Germany takes in close to 50,000 refugees in first half of 2021

Left-wing opposition calls for more to be done in second half of year for Afghan asylum seekers.

Germany takes in close to 50,000 refugees in first half of 2021
Soldiers assist a family waiting to be evacuated from Kabul Airport on August 24th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/U.S. Marine Corps/AP | Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla

Left Party politicians are pushing the German government to accept a greater number of Afghan refugees after it was revealed that the country had taken less than half of its maximum quota so far in 2021.

According to government figures, Germany accepted around 47,000 refugees in the first half of the year, while more than 11,000 were either deported or denied asylum.

The figures were revealed after the opposition Left Party put in a question to the governing coalition to interrogate its recent track record on accepting refugees.

In the coalition agreement, the CDU/CSU and SPD had pledged to create a route for up to 180,000 to 220,000 refugees to emigrate to Germany each year. 

But if the current trend continues, they would be on track to take 95,000 asylum seekers by the end of 2021 – amounting to less than half of the cap set by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. 

“In view of the worldwide increase in refugee numbers, this is shameful news, because as a rich country, Germany is thus not living up to its responsibility for refugee protection,” Ulla Jelpke, the Left Party interior spokeswoman said in parliament.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany is failing its Afghan helpers – out of fear of repeat of 2015 refugee crisis

Even if Germany were to take in 50,000 particularly vulnerable people from Afghanistan, the country would still fall far short of the upper limit drawn “arbitrarily” by Seehofer, Jelpke added.

Debate over Afghan refugees

As the situation in Afghanistan grows increasingly volatile, German politicians are under pressure to offer assistance to a number of people who could be facing acts of retaliation from the Taliban for aiding Western forces over the past two decades. 

Following talks with neighbouring Uzbekistan on Monday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said that assistance would only be offered to those who had already been granted permission to come to Germany.

“We are only concerned with this group of people,” he said. 

READ ALSO: German army evacuates more than 2,700 people from Afghanistan

There are more than 10,000 Afghans on the Foreign Office’s departure lists.

These include former Afghan employees of the German armed forces or ministries – the so-called local staff – and people in need of special protection, such as human rights activists or women’s rights activists.

In addition, there are their family members. As things stand at present, there are more than 40,000 people who could potentially be taken in by Germany – provided they manage to leave the country.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Uncredited

In his comments on Monday, Maas stressed that the remaining rescue operations would take some time.

“There is no time limit,” he said. “This is an issue that will keep us busy for weeks and probably months.”

On Thursday, the last of Germany’s troops and government officials pulled out of Kabul after evacuating around 5,300 people – include 3,600 Afghans. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s evacuation operation in Afghanistan ends

Announcing the end of the evacuations on Twitter, the Defence Ministry said it was not possible to extend the operations due to “security concerns”.

Over the past week, there have been a number of deadly bomb attacks in and around Kabul airport as thousands of people have struggled to make it onto flights out of the country. 

“We will continue to work to protect those who have been left behind,” the German Defence Ministry said.