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Afghanistan: Supporting the evacuation of national Afghan EU staff while ensuring continued aid delivery

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Raffaella works for the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. On 19 August, 4 days after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, she left on a military flight to Afghanistan. The mission was clear: to help evacuate the remaining Afghan national EU staff. Now, EU humanitarian aid continues: we will focus on supporting the 18 million Afghans in need of humanitarian aid and those displaced in neighbouring countries.

Raffaella joined a complex operation with the European External Action Service (EEAS) to get all EU staff and families out of the country. To do this, the evacuees had to cross the barrier of the Taliban security, to reach the gate where they could board the flights, in very dire security conditions.

“What you see on TV from the airport in Kabul, is not what you sense when you see the thousands of people on a small square in the heat of the sun for days, totally in despair, frightened and desperate to get out of the country, while hearing shootings,” she explains.

Raffaella’s major role was to support the people on the other side of this barrier, comforting them so they would not give up while they were in despair on the other side, sometimes for over 20 hours.

“We managed to successfully evacuate all our Afghan national EU staff, but let’s not forget all those in need in Afghanistan in even worse conditions. Our biggest efforts are needed now in delivering humanitarian aid to more than 18 million people in need,” she says.

In the end, the support team managed to get all the national staff out of the country. However, the main challenge was to get the people across the barrier of the Taliban security

There were times when they struggled to get some of the people across the barrier of the Taliban security. In the end, they managed to get all the national staff out of the country.

For Raffaella and the rest of the team, the thought of having to leave people behind was the greatest challenge.

“Even when we heard the big explosion of the bomb on August 26, which killed dozens of people, I did not want to leave the gate. We had 60 people on the other side of the gate who needed to get across the barrier at that time. When you have peoples’ lives in your hands, you go into an action mode, and you cannot just leave. I am not even sure I was scared,” she explains.

Raffaella eventually got into a shelter where she was safe, which was a heartbreaking moment, she explains. However, the joy of the successful evacuations was the motivation: “When we finally managed, after hours and hours of trying and saw our staff’s kids looking at us and waving - that made us all cry.”

After a week-long mission, the evacuations had to stop and Raffaella went back to Europe with one of the French Army evacuation flights together with the evacuees. When arriving in Paris they were greeted by the Red Cross and volunteers who gave the Afghan staff and their families the necessary support

“Even though the kids were happy for the toys they got when we arrived, I will never forget the empty eyes of the parents, and the shock in the women’s eyes - they had left everything behind, some of them only had a plastic bag with them,” she says.

After the evacuations, humanitarian work continues. There are still some 18 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, and the situation is worsening. The neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan and Iran hosting high numbers of Afghan refugees, also need support.

The EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations team in charge of Afghanistan is making every effort to continue assisting the people in need in the humanitarian crisis, with support from our Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, other relevant services, and the Member States.

The European Commission channels humanitarian aid through organisations like the UN and international NGOs. These partners have a long history of working all over the country, including the Taliban controlled areas, to deliver EU funded humanitarian aid to those most in need.

Thanks to the humanitarian aid workers doing lifesaving work, EU humanitarian aid is committed to stay and deliver in Afghanistan.

Last updated 22/09/2021