A middle-aged man was waiting on Thursday 300 meters from the metal gate that gives access to the airport in Kabul, controlled by US forces. It is the only way out of the country. There is no other. The man, in impeccable English, asked a foreign journalist what he would need to do to get there. Between him and this door stood hundreds of people, perhaps a thousand, as desperate as he was to escape. Farther ahead, some Afghan soldiers served as the first barrier armed with sticks and sticks to stop human avalanches. The funnel ended in a narrow access, which was passed one by one. The journalist looked at the man and the rest of his family ―a woman, a 15-year-old daughter and two young children, all with small backpacks ― and advised him: “You have to go hard. Go through this here however you like”.
It was the same advice that an Irish embassy official gave to a friend, his compatriot, who gave up after spending all Wednesday trying to get into Kabul airport, where he received shoves and punches and fought with an Afghan who was also in line. . So he went to his friend at the embassy and asked if there was another way to get into the airport. His contact replied with the phrase: “We have to go hard. There’s no other way”.
Finally, the father of the family looked dismayed at the gate. He looked as if he didn’t have the strength to cross it with his family, pushing and struggling until he got as close as possible to the end of the funnel. Maybe the next day would be better…
Kabul airport, specifically its northern access, has become a monstrous bottleneck. Every day thousands of people pass through there trying to catch a plane. The heat is asphyxiating. There is no shadow. No water, no food. In addition, since Thursday, American soldiers have left the most thankless job ―scattering people with sticks when the situation becomes untenable ― to members of the Afghan army who took refuge at the airport after being defeated by the Taliban.
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There are no lists, no means of numerical control, no one to organize anything. There is only the luck of arriving at a time when a gap appears that allows us to move forward. Or gain the place by stealing it from others. There are many people who, loaded with children, arrive in the morning and leave at night without being able to make any progress. Others who give up because their young children can’t stand hunger, thirst and fatigue any longer. For the first few days, Monday and Tuesday, US soldiers used flares and rockets to try to control the crowd, but the noise frightened small children, who were starting to cry. Since the Afghan Army took over the access to the gate, it has gotten even worse: they use rifles with real bullets, which left several dead in recent days.
Amidst this chaos, a 70-year-old man, along with his wife, who walked with a cane, also hesitated. They said that they had worked in San Diego, USA, that they had all the documents in order. But there was no way that, at his age, they could get into the crowd pushing and beating each other to try to get to the front of the line.
There are those who have the necessary visas. Others carry a certificate that they worked for a time for a foreign company. There are those who present an email saying only that the authorization to be able to leave is being processed by a foreign government. On Wednesday, a man showed a soldier his Afghan passport, but in the wrong place in line, and the soldier threw the document in his face. The soldiers, to control the crowd, are shouting for everyone to sit down, to crouch in the sun, not to move. Meanwhile, everyone hears the noise of planes taking off from the airport, even at night.
On Thursday, to further protect access, the Afghan army installed barbed wire between the funnel corridor and the crowd. A man who was advancing with his young son stumbled and, so that his son would not be hurt, he got between the wire and him. He caught his sleeve, hurt his hand. Nothing severe. But no one knows if there were more injuries.
a big jam
At night, the tide of people ebbs a little. But not totally. An Afghan with a US passport said on Thursday that it was his third day arriving at 4 am, and that there were always people waiting to pass.
In fact, getting into the waiting area is almost a miracle. The access road to the airport is always congested. You have to take a taxi and get as close as possible. From there, walk—carrying suitcases, bags and children.
There is another access, but this one is more controlled by the Taliban. Until a few days ago, it was less crowded with applicants, but now it’s almost as crowded as the one at the north gate. A sign that more and more people are going to the airport, that despair and the sense of urgency to leave the country are spreading more and more. Sometimes, those who want to escape through this gate take advantage of Taliban guards being distracted by asking someone else for documents or looking the other way, and then rushing to reach the access controlled by Danish or English soldiers. But it is not easy. And they risk being discovered and beaten by Taliban militiamen. Escape from Kabul is like playing a ghoulish hide-and-seek.
It’s not even easy to get to the congestion leading to the airport. “The Taliban not only control the access roads to the airport, but they also patrol the streets, there are random controls, and people are afraid of being approached with their families and don’t always think it’s safe to go to the meeting points,” said a source close to to the Spanish withdrawal operation, adding that “telephone communications are very bad and fail”. Among the employees who want to be taken away, there are people of all kinds: “Drivers, secretaries, translators, local people, people who worked in European projects for the development of agriculture, the promotion of women, hygiene and health…”, he said this source told reporter Patricia Ortega Dolz.