Afghans desperate to leave country remain stuck at Kabul airport

In chaotic scenes outside shuttered airport, hundreds of families gather as Taliban tries to disperse crowds.

Afghan security guards stand on a wall as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan [AP Photo]

Kabul, Afghanistan – For the last three days, Yasna Haqparast has been standing outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport with her husband and two children.

Each day, as they wait by the divider between the airport and the Stars Wedding Hall, Haqparast and her family hear the sounds of gunfire as members of the Taliban shoot round after round into the air, trying to disperse the hundreds of families gathered outside the shuttered airport.

Haqparast and her family had fled the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the last urban centres to fall to the Taliban last week, and were hoping to head to Canada on Sunday evening. When they got to the airport though, they found themselves face-to-face with a calamity.

“There were rushes of people, everyone pushing up against the other,” Haqparast said of the thousands of people who had crowded around the airport the night President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban arrived in the capital, Kabul.

Sources told Al Jazeera that the airport has sustained serious damage that will require some time to repair. They said security scanners were broken as a result of the sea of people running past them, and that the inside of the international terminal and the gates are also in need of reparation.

It wasn’t just the people desperate to board commercial flights to Dubai and Istanbul, or private evacuation flights to the United States and the United Kingdom, that were amassing around the airport – there were also looters.

Fahim, a government worker who was trying to board a flight to Istanbul, said the impact of Ghani’s departure was immediate.

“As soon as they heard he left, everyone left their posts,” he said of people ranging from government ministers to police in the city, including near the airport. He said thieves took advantage of the chaos and insecurity.

“They would steal the luggage from your hands,” both Fahim and Haqparast said.

Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan to flee the country [AP Photo]

Haqparast said in the mad dash to manoeuvre through the crowds rushing through the many checkpoints and the thieves, people lost track of their belongings.

“We were running so fast that what didn’t get stolen somehow just fell from our hands and our pockets.”

She said that her family’s documents, passports and money all fell somewhere on concrete pathways leading to the international terminal.

But she said the worst part of the ordeal was seeing the horrific scenes that have gone viral on social media, including video footage that appeared to show young men grabbing ahold of a US military plane before plummeting as it ascends into the air.

With no money to go back to Mazar and without their documents, Haqparast said her family is forced to sleep “on the dirt” just outside the airport until it reopens.

However, with no tickets, passports or visas, even once the airport returns to business as usual it will be difficult to gain access.

Several people were reportedly killed at Kabul airport on August 16 as Afghans were attempting to hang on a moving US military plane leaving the airport [EPA-EFE]

Standing only a few feet from Haqparast is a young man in a white piran tomban and a black New York Yankees cap. He smirks in disbelief as a Taliban member pushes back a crowd by flailing a plastic pipe around.

Trying to avoid the rush of people running from the Taliban fighter’s pipe, the man, in his 20s, didn’t give his name, but said that he had previously worked for the Canadian Special Forces.

He said he too, was bound for an evacuation flight, but has been stuck outside the airport for days.

But he, like Haqparast, saw a sharp contrast between himself and the hundreds of people trying to pass the roundabout and walk into the well-guarded airport, as well as the hundreds more who are posted up outside a lavish wedding hall across from the airport entrance.

“I would say 90 to 95 percent of these people don’t have documents,” he said agreeing with a claim made by Haqparast.

Haqparast is especially angered by reports that people without any documents, including passports, were able to board planes and leave the country.

“It’s not fair, they are taking the rightful places of desperate people,” she says of the men, women and children who have been crowding near the airport since Sunday.

People wait to be evacuated from Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul following the Taliban’s stunning takeover of the country [AFP]

But it wasn’t just people who were trying to get on evacuation flights who were stuck. Afghans with dual passports trying to board commercial flights were left waiting on pilotless planes for hours.

The family of one elderly former diplomat said the 80-something-year-old was left on a plane bound for Istanbul for more than 14 hours, much of it without food, water, medicine or power to charge his mobile phone.

Another former Presidential Palace worker was stuck at the airport for more than eight hours. Though she came in a car with black government plates, she had to leave with another one-time palace worker in a “simple” car late on Saturday evening, early Sunday morning.

Both the former officials feared returning to their homes and stayed in nondescript houses in the capital until their respective countries could help fly them out of Kabul.

Haqparast, the woman who was travelling with her husband and two children, blamed Afghan airline staff, who reportedly went missing at one point, US and UK soldiers, who had taken responsibility for the airport, and the Taliban for the chaos.

She also criticised foreign countries for unclear visa processes and vague promises of resettling thousands of people.

“Everyone somehow thinks a country will accept them, but they have nothing with them. No proof of any kind.”

But her blame extends beyond the last few months.

“Look at how they handled this war, they have to come and see what they created,” she said as the repeated sounds of gunfire echoed across the area.

Source: Al Jazeera