Nepalis returning from Afghanistan stress swift rescue of fellow citizensAs many as 118 Nepali nationals, working at the US embassy in Kabul, arrive home, two days after the Taliban made a comeback.
Prakash Basnet heaved a sigh of relief when he emerged from the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Tuesday morning.
“The first thing I did after landing here today was call up my family,” Basnet, one of the 118 Nepalis who were evacuated from Afghanistan, told the Post.
Basnet and 117 other Nepali nationals, as well as nine Indians, were flown to Kuwait by the United States on Monday, a day after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the Afghan capital.
“It’s such a relief to be back home,” said the 43-year-old from Lamjung in Madhya Nepal Municipality. “But I am here empty-handed; there was no time to collect my belongings.”
Basnet and other Nepali and Indian citizens, who were working in the United States embassy in Kabul, were flown to Nepal from Kuwait in a Jazeera Airways flight.
“We all were working as security guards inside the US embassy. So we didn't face any trouble,” said Basnet. “But there are other Nepalis too who reached Afghanistan through different channels. The government must look into their status and ensure their safe repatriation.”
All the evacuees were taken to two isolation centres by the Nepal Army.
With the Taliban taking full control of Kabul on Sunday, ending the United States’ 20-year era, scenes of chaos, pandemonium and panic have been emerging from Afghanistan.
International media reports have shown hundreds of Afghans rushing to the tarmac of the Kabul international airport and clinging onto aeroplanes in a desperate bid to flee the country. Concerns have grown across the world, as countries are working on plans to evacuate their citizens.
The 118 Nepali citizens who arrived in Nepal on Tuesday were rescued by the Americans. The Nepal government has said it would do all it requires to bring back its citizens from the war-torn country, but officials say they do not have the exact data on Nepalis there.
The Department of Foreign Employment records show that in the last fiscal year, ending mid-July, 1,073 Nepalis had obtained permits to work in Afghanistan. The Department’s statistics show that in the last seven years, more than 8,000 Nepalis have been issued labour permits to Afghanistan. But it is estimated that there could be more than 14,000 Nepalis who are stranded. Despite the higher risk, Nepalis prefer to go to this conflict-ridden country due to high pay.
Another returnee, who briefly spoke just as he came out of the airport, said since he and his colleagues were flown out on Monday from Kabul, he did not have much idea of the pandemonium.
“However, I am concerned about other Nepalis,” said the man, who appeared to be in his mid-40s, from Pyuthan. “We cannot say how the situation unfolds. I feel lucky that I have been evacuated. The government must find ways to airlift other Nepalis working there.”
Afghanistan was banned for Nepali workers in July 2016 after 13 Nepalis were killed in a car bomb attack in Kabul. But the government lifted the ban after four months the same year. A majority of Nepalis, mostly ex-police and ex-army personnel, went to the war-ravaged country to work as security guards in foreign missions and United Nations agencies.
The Nepal government, according to Nepali officials, has already established communication with most of the foreign missions and UN agencies and requested them to help repatriate Nepalis working with them.
As many as 579 Nepalis were said to be working at the US embassy in Kabul. Officials say as per the records available to them, 60 Nepalis are working in the German embassy, 87 in the United Kingdom embassy and 62 in the Japanese embassy in Kabul.
The government has called upon Nepalis to fill up a form if they want to be evacuated from Afghanistan. Nepalis in Afghanistan can also contact +977-9749326458 (Department of Consular Services) and +977-9749326459 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). They can also get in touch with the Nepali embassy in New Delhi at +91-8929601925.
After the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Nepali citizens to register their name, address, contact details and their contacts in Nepal, 256 Nepalis living in Kabul have already sent emails and contacted the designated Nepali officials.
The Kabul airport, which was closed on Monday after people started rushing to the tarmac and climbing up airplanes, was reopened on Tuesday for evacuations of foreign nationals.
Reuters reported that at least 12 military flights had taken off from the Kabul airport on Tuesday. The US has sent 6,000 troops to assist the evacuation from the airport.
At Kathmandu airport on Tuesday morning, an Indian national who was evacuated from Afghanistan said he had been working at the US embassy in Kabul since 2004.
“I am an Indian national. I could not bring any belongings along with me, but I am glad that I was rescued,” said the man who identified himself as Raj Kumar Thapa.
Another Indian national, Udaya Man Lama, a retired Indian Army official, the Post spoke to said he has already informed his family members that he was returning home.
“My family was so worried,” he said.
According to officials, more Nepalis are set to arrive home with the help of the US embassy.
The major concern, however, is how to bring those Nepalis back home who are undocumented.
An official at the Nepali embassy in New Delhi, which has the accreditation to look after Afghanistan, agreed that there are challenges when it comes to rescuing Nepalis who have reached Afghanistan illegally.
“The embassy is taking initiatives to evacuate those Nepalis who had reached the country after taking labour permits. But it’s difficult to rescue others,” said the official. “Some have reached recently, while there are others whose visas have expired.”
According to the official, the undocumented Nepalis are more worried.
“They are in touch with us and requesting their evacuation. We have assured them that we would do whatever we can,” the official said.
The embassy, however, is not clear how it could evacuate those Nepalis who reached Afghanistan through illegal channels.
“There are no clear instructions from the Foreing Ministry,” said the official.
Meanwhile, the man from Pyuthan, who said he is grateful that he managed to return home safely, expressed concerns about the Nepalis stuck in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is a war zone. There is fear and uncertainty,” he said. “I have not heard about any Nepali being taken captive by the Taliban as yet, but the government must make efforts to get all its citizens home safely at the earliest.”
(Rajesh Mishra contributed reporting from New Delhi.)