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Swiss foreign ministry staff flown out of Kabul

A helicopter flying over the US embassy in Kabul, Sunday August 15. Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

The three remaining Swiss employees at the cooperation office in Kabul have been evacuated and are on their way back to Europe, Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has confirmed.

This content was published on August 17, 2021 - 09:28
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The three staff members of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Afghanistan were flown out in the night of Sunday to Monday, “with the help of [Switzerland’s] partners”, Cassis tweeted on Monday morning.

The German news agency DPA had reported that the Swiss were onboard an American plane along with 40 employees of the German embassy in Kabul. They were flown to Doha, Qatar, and will return to Switzerland as soon as possible.

Three other SDC employees had left the Kabul office earlier, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Monday. The Swiss cooperation office in the capital was closed on Sunday morning. Switzerland does not have an embassy in Kabul.

Cassis said Switzerland was “working flat-out, in difficult circumstances”, to also evacuate 40 local Afghan staff members and their families - approximately 230 people in total - who have been able to request a humanitarian visa in Switzerland.

He said the Swiss government was assessing the situation on an hourly basis and would act swiftly in cooperation with other countries.

Chaotic scenes

This has been complicated by the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.

"Afghan and foreign citizens who want to leave the country must be able to do so freely and unhindered; roads, airports and border crossings must remain open for this," the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Switzerland also voiced concerns about the high levels of violence. It urged people involved in the fighting to respect international humanitarian law and human rights, in particular the rights of minorities and women and girls.

The SDC evacuation follows the entry of Taliban militants into Kabul at the weekend. The Islamist group has taken over much of Afghanistan in the past ten days, the culmination of a campaign that began in May after the US announced it would be drawing down its military presence after two decades.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday, saying “the Taliban have won”. Many foreign nations are organising evacuations, with US forces focusing on securing Kabul’s airport.

The UN Security Council is due to meet on Monday afternoon to talk about the situation.

Swiss International Air Lines said on Monday that it would be currently avoiding flying through Afghan airspace, due to the “dynamic” political situation.

Temporary admission

Meanwhile, several hundred people have staged a protest outside the parliament building in the Swiss capital, Bern, against the Talibans in Afghanistan and their policies.

The participants called on the Swiss authorities to help people in Afghanistan, notably by boosting humanitarian aid in the region and granting humanitarian visas.

The demonstration, which was organised by a group of Afghans living in exile, came amid calls by NGOs and left-wing political parties to help Afghan asylum seekers and facilitate family reunifications. The Coalition of Independent Lawyers for Asylum said Afghans already present in Switzerland should be granted temporary admission status, regardless of whether they are currently in an asylum procedure.

Similar to the Syria situation in 2013, federal authorities should also allow Afghans to reunite with family members already living in Switzerland, the group said. Unmarried women and girls should be given priority, the organisation said. The Swiss Refugee Council and the Swiss section of Amnesty International made similar demands last week.

On Monday the Green Party and the Social Democrats also urged Swiss authorities to facilitate family reunifications of Afghans in Switzerland via humanitarian visas. They also called for the country to accept and grant protection status to 10,000 refugees as part of an international quota system.

Last week Switzerland said it had suspended repatriations to Afghanistan “until further notice, owing to the changed situation in the country”. Afghanistan had asked Switzerland at the beginning of July to postpone the repatriation of rejected asylum-seekers for three months due to the Taliban advance and the Covid-19 pandemic. Aid organisations had long demanded that Switzerland stop such repatriations.

The Swiss foreign ministry said on Monday that the Swiss embassy in Pakistan, which has consular responsibility for Afghanistan, is in contact with Swiss nationals remaining in Afghanistan. A total of 26 Swiss nationals are registered with the embassy in Islamabad. 

Citizens who need help to leave the country should contact the Swiss embassy in Islamabad immediately (islamabad@eda.admin.ch, Tel .: +92 300 856 4052), the ministry added.

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