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(2nd LD) Some 380 Afghan evacuees to be airlifted to S. Korea Thursday: foreign ministry

All News 12:12 August 25, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is set to airlift some 380 Afghans to the country this week in a frantic operation to evacuate people who aided Seoul's efforts to help rebuild the war-torn Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Military planes carrying the evacuees were expected to depart from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and land at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Thursday, Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon said.

Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon speaks during a press briefing on the evacuation operation of Afghans, on Aug. 25, 2021. (Yonhap)

"Considering the moral responsibility for the serious situation facing our colleagues who worked with us, our responsibility as a member of the international community and our global stature as a leading nation upholding human rights, as well as the fact that other countries have also been transporting Afghans, we decided in August to embrace them in our country," Choi told a press briefing.

"As the situation in Afghanistan worsened, they have appealed to our embassy in Afghanistan for safety issues and requested assistance for flights to Korea," he said.

The Afghans will be coming not as refugees but as "persons of special merit," Choi added.

South Korea sent the three military transport aircraft to Islamabad on Monday to fly the Afghans out of Kabul, amid fears of Taliban retaliation for those who have allied with America and its allies.

Though the Taliban pledged to grant "amnesty to all people," burgeoning reports of Taliban brutality highlighted the urgency of the humanitarian operations.

The evacuees are medical professionals, vocational trainers, IT experts and interpreters who worked for Korea's embassy and its humanitarian and relief facilities in Afghanistan, as well as their family members.

Many of them worked at South Korea's now-closed hospital and job training center, both of which were run by the country's overseas aid institution, the Korea International Cooperation Agency.

After the United States engaged in the war on terror in Afghanistan in 2001, South Korea conducted various military and relief operations, including the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) activities from 2010-14.

The major task of the PRT is to provide medical services, aid for agricultural development and vocational and police training.

All evacuees have had to slog their way through perilous checkpoints and other barriers to reach a Kabul airport for Korean flights. Little security support such as a protective convoy was offered on their perilous way to the airport, as was the case for those backed by other major countries.

The Afghans will come to Korea on short-term visas, which will switch to longer-term ones, officials said. It remains unclear whether they want to settle in Korea or find other opportunities outside the country.

Upon arrival, they will be tested for COVID-19 and be placed under a coronavirus quarantine at a government-designated facility in the southern provincial county of Jincheon, about 91 kilometers away from Seoul.

They will undergo screening again to confirm their identification, a foreign ministry official said earlier.

"We have known one another for two years or even eight years without any problem," the official said. "We understand citizens can raise an issue, but the government will make best efforts to reassure them."

The evacuation got under way after Seoul temporarily closed its embassy and evacuated its diplomatic staff to Qatar, as the security conditions worsened amid the ongoing pullout of U.S. troops and the Taliban's return to power.

Their planned arrival here comes amid a debate pitting those favoring the acceptance of Afghan evacuees in line with the country's enhanced national stature against those raising potential security and other risks.

"The evacuation of the Afghans is an issue where the country's national prestige and honor is at stake," Ethan Hee-Seok Shin of the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) said.

"If that mission had not proceeded properly, Korea would likely have difficulty finding supporters in other risk-prone regions down the road," he added.

But a citizen in Gimpo, west of Seoul, showed his aversion to the influx of evacuees

"Do we have room to pay attention to them when we are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic," he said on condition of anonymity.

This AFP photo by Bertrand Guay shows Afghan people walking on the tarmac as they disembark from an Airbus A400M military transport aircraft at the French military air base 104 of Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on Aug. 23, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul as part of Operation Apagan. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
(END)

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