For those who managed to flee Afghanistan, leaving their home country under Taliban rule is just the beginning of their challenges — they are landing in foreign countries across the world to rebuild new lives and contend with anti-migrant attitudes.
Most people seeking to flee Afghanistan have little hope of finding a quick way out of the country, let alone finding welcome abroad, as some destination countries issue anti-asylum-seeker warnings and harden their borders.
But some among the relatively small handful with the right paperwork who weathered the chaos of the Kabul airport in recent days and managed to board flights out have been received with warmly in airports around the world.
Children were given white and pink teddy bears and met with welcome banners at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, where hundreds of Afghans arrived – not as refugees, but dubbed by authorities as “persons of special merit,” in a bid to deter anti-migrant abuse. Some 370 people have been granted short-stay visas that are valid for up to 90 days, with local media reporting that they are likely to be converted into long-term visas.
The youngsters were photographed clutching their new toys as they boarded buses and walked alongside their loved ones.
In some photos, the young arrivals peeped out of windows, offering sheepish waves and half-smiles.
“We love all of you” read one banner from a church group that was displayed outside the National Human Resources Development Institute, where those who fled Afghanistan are reported to be temporarily housed. “We will share your pain. Have a comfortable stay,” read another.
Among those landing in the country are medical professionals and interpreters who have worked for the South Korean government, and an estimated 100 children – including three newborns.
On Friday, local news outlets shared video footage of South Korean officials wearing face masks standing outside the airport and waving at buses carrying the new arrivals.
Due to the covid-19 pandemic, those landing will be tested for the coronavirus and asked to quarantine for two weeks.
The rescue effort was banded “Operation Miracle,” according to the Korea Herald, and saw three military planes enter Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday. In remarks made earlier this week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the country had a “moral responsibility” to help those fleeing Taliban rule.
The ethnically homogeneous Asian nation has a complicated stance on refugees, with other asylum seekers facing discrimination from citizens and the government in recent years. Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, recently highlighted concerns from some Koreans that the refugees would pose safety and economic concerns, even as civic groups said the country should step up as it sent troops and construction workers to support the war effort in Afghanistan.
In other places – including the United Kingdom and several states in the United States – mass donations of food, clothing, furniture and toiletries from those eager to support their government’s relocation efforts flooded in.
In Texas, a state divided over immigration policy, more than 200 residents stepped up to become aid volunteers while others offered their spare bedrooms and empty properties to refugee families.
“People understand the human aspects of this, having to flee this life-or-death situation. And they just open the door,” Jacqueline Buzas, a program supervisor for Refugee Services of Texas, said last week.
So far more than 104,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies since Aug. 14, the Pentagon said.
The United States has not yet confirmed how many refugees it will take, though President Biden has vowed to evacuate as many people as possible before Tuesday.
The United Kingdom has confirmed it is taking in 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years.
In Wales, a giant message reading “Refugees Welcome” was etched into the sands of a beach in the town of Tenby, alongside the word “Afghanistan.”
The striking sand-art was commissioned by the anti-racism group “Stand Up to Racism West Wales” and carried out by local artists, British media reported.
In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the city was “ready to welcome as many Afghan refugees as possible,” as charities reported hundreds of bags of donations from generous people seeking to help.
Others in Britain protested in the city streets of central London last weekend, carrying signs that read “U.S. and Nato failed” and “Afghan refugees welcome here.”