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First Belgians airlifted from Afghanistan arrive at military base in Vilvoorde

First Belgian evacuees from Afghanistan arrive in Belgium
11:03 22/08/2021

The first 34 Belgian evacuees from Afghanistan arrived at Peutie military base in Vilvoorde for medical examinations and visa controls on Saturday afternoon. They landed in Schipol aboard a Dutch aircraft earlier in the day and were transported to Belgium by bus.

A further 193 people, according to VTM, landed at Melsbroek air base at Brussels national airport aboard an Air Belgium charter flight on Monday morning. A second flight operated by the Belgian military is due to land shortly, also originating from the Pakistan capital Islamabad.

All the evacuees had been pre-screened by authorities, said asylum and migration minister Sammy Mahdi on Saturday. They include Belgian nationals and their families, Afghan staff, NGO workers and activists.

The rescue missions are part of operation Red Kite, a joint initiative by the Belgium federal government, defence and foreign ministries. It has been carrying out air shuttles between the Afghanistan capital Kabul and Islamabad with C-130H Hercules military cargo aircraft since Friday. Four further airlifts are planned on Monday. The evacuation missions have also involved the Grandy Duchy of Luxembourg and other countries.

Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, tens of thousands of people have been attempting to flee the Taliban regime who now control Kabul. Around 50 Belgian families in the country initially contacted Belgian authorities for help to leave. The foreign ministry said that some had decided against repatriation because they could not be evacuated with the people they wanted.

As an arbitrary US deadline for an end to evacuations nears, foreign governments have been stepping up military rescue missions amid an increasingly chaotic situation. Taliban roadblocks around the city have prevented people from reaching the US controlled airport, according to widespread sources. Military aircraft carrying out airlifts have not always been able to operate at full capacity.

Photo: Belga © Nicolas Maeterlinck

This article was update on 23 August at 10.00 to include the latest information about evacuations from Afghanistan


Written by Sarah Crew