File picture: Reuters / Stringer.
File picture: Reuters / Stringer.

Lack of info hampering efforts to evacuate South Africans in Afghanistan

By Lethu Nxumalo Time of article published Aug 22, 2021

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Durban - Efforts to evacuate South Africans stuck in Afghanistan could be delayed due to a lack of information on citizens caught up in the chaos.

Local non governmental organisation, the Gift of The Givers Foundation (GOTG) was attempting to secure the safe passage to the capital, Kabul, for those wanting to return home.

Thousands of people have been flocking to Kabul international airport, desperate to leave the country since Sunday when the Taliban moved in. Images of chaos, women with children, Afghans and foreigners all wanting to escape the Taliban have dominated world news, prompting calls for intervention.

Many countries, including America, have been evacuating their citizens, but in some instances, those wanting to leave were being blocked from reaching the airport which has become a safe haven for many.

This week, Kerwin van der Merwe from Sherwood, who had been working for the fire department at the Kabul airport, was desperate to return to his family in Durban.

Speaking to a local radio station on Wednesday, he said that he was stuck at the airport awaiting evacuation, and that the military had been providing security.

“At the moment I am safe, the military has the whole base covered, we are safe and secure. We will be going back home on military flights. They are trying to get as many people out as possible,” he said.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) could not confirm whether Van der Merwe had made it back to the country safely.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the GOTG, said they were not certain how many South Africans were still stuck in Afghanistan, but that the foundation had received one request to assist 16 pilots to return to the country.

“The next day we were told only six pilots wanted to come home, and the other 10 wanted to stay.

“I was told that some South Africans are in areas outside Kabul in other provinces, and needed to get safe passage to Kabul, but everything is so sketchy, no names, no passport details, no news on the areas they are stuck in, no mention of the number of people stuck,” he said.

Sooliman said they had approached the Qatar Ambassador, who has great influence in Afghanistan, to assist South Africans in other parts of Afghanistan to reach Kabul safely.

“He said he is willing to assist and will send a motivational letter to the Qatar government once they receive an official request in writing from Gift of the Givers with the names, passport details, areas where South Africans are stuck, and the number of people stuck.

“We haven't made the request officially, as we don't have this information and no other requests of assistance, except for the six pilots, have been received,” he said.

Dirco said they were in contact with a number of citizens based in Afghanistan through the South African High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan, to ensure their safety, and to provide the necessary consular assistance.

Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela called on the authorities in power to protect the rule of law, human rights and safety of all Afghans and foreign nationals alike.

“We wish to appeal to all military and security groups to exercise the utmost restraint and protect the lives and property of the people.

“The South African government furthermore encourages all Afghan parties involved in the internal conflict to ceaselessly search for a solution through dialogue, restoration of stability, and an orderly transition to a new government,” he said.

South African nationals currently in Afghanistan and in need of assistance, have been requested to contact the consular section of the department or the South African High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Sunday Tribune

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