SKOPJE, North Macedonia – Three Balkan countries have offered to help desperate Afghans, but no refugees have flown on US flights.
As thousands continue to crowd around Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, officials from North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania – neighboring Balkan countries whose populations have themselves suffered violence – said last week that they had offered to temporarily host those fleeing Afghanistan.
But a week after the Taliban completed their lightning-speed takeover of the country, finally entering Kabul last Sunday without firing, no refugees have arrived on US flights, officials said in the countries. . They didn’t know when the Afghans would arrive.
Duško Arsovski, spokesman for the government of North Macedonia, said on Saturday that his country was awaiting information and was in the process of organizing hotels for the refugees.
The country’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, said on Friday his small nation would host around 650 Afghans.
“We are saving a peaceful population who have cherished democracy for 20 years and who have helped and supported our military in their missions there,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Kosovo government said a flight could be expected in the coming days, although he has no information on his arrival date and he cannot say how many Afghans are there. country would welcome.
The situation was also uncertain in Albania where Prime Minister’s spokesman Endri Fuga said: “If they arrive today, we still don’t know.
The State Department and the Pentagon made no comment when asked why flights were not sent to those countries, despite thousands hoping for a flight from Afghanistan.
Back in Kabul, the United States faces a logistical nightmare to get American citizens and Afghan refugees out of the city after thousands of terrified people rush to the airport desperate to leave as the Taliban consolidates control of the country.
The UK government said on Sunday that seven people had died after being run over in crowds around the airport.
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A day earlier, two US defense officials said the United States was following specific threats from ISIS against the Kabul airport and against Americans and others attempting to leave Afghanistan. The military is working on alternative ways to get Americans, Afghans and third country nationals safely to the airport.
“We are following a different path,” said a defense official.
Previously, the US Embassy in Afghanistan advised US citizens not to travel to the airport due to “potential security threats.”
Some 22,000 people have so far been evacuated from Afghanistan since operations began in late July, including 17,000 in the past week, General William Taylor told reporters on Saturday. In the past 24 hours, 3,800 people have been evacuated from Kabul, he added.
President Joe Biden has vowed that America will do everything possible to ensure a safe evacuation of Afghan civilians, many of whom assisted US forces during their stay in the country and may now be targeted due to their association with the Afghan civilians. United States.
But time is running out before his August 31 deadline to withdraw most of the remaining U.S. troops, and he has made no commitment to extend it.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that the United States was trying to transfer people through regional countries, such as Qatar, in part due to energy efficiency. From there, Americans can return home on State Department commercial or charter flights, he said.
On Sunday, the Pentagon announced it would enlist in commercial planes to help transport people once they are evacuated from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in southern Europe, Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia – NATO’s newest member – remain keen to help their US ally.
“The governments of North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo are eager to show off their strategic alliance with the United States,” said Petar Arsovski, a Macedonian political consultant. “And maybe send a message to the EU that they are not without options.”
The three countries are surrounded by member states of the European Union but are not part of the political and economic group.
Arsovski said the region was trying to win favor with the White House. North Macedonia wants the Biden administration to rely on Bulgaria to unlock its EU membership process, Kosovo hopes Washington will help it establish a more productive dialogue with Serbia, and Albania also wants to start negotiations to join the EU, he added.
On Friday evening, at an otherwise quiet airport in Skopje, journalists greeted a flight of Macedonians who worked for military contractors in Kabul. As families greeted their loved ones with tears in their eyes with relief under the fluorescent lights of the airport, several people expressed concern for the Afghan civilians left behind.
“These people really need help,” Jusuf Mustafi, 36, who said he had worked as a military contractor in Afghanistan for three and a half years. “Everyone should help every human being. “
Mustafi said his country was correct in offering to host refugees, noting that some Macedonians knew what it meant to be uprooted by violence as they were forced to flee during the 2001 clashes that rocked this nation of Balkans.
It was a feeling that echoed through the wide arteries of central Skopje which are teeming with imposing monuments and are surrounded by picturesque hills.
“When the war broke out here, I was a refugee,” said Deti Saiti, 49, a vendor in an Albanian part of town near the banks of the Vardar River. “No one wants to leave their house, they have to, so of course we will welcome them.”
But not everyone was so welcoming. Some passers-by said North Macedonia is poor and cannot cope with more dependents.
“They should go to America, it’s a rich nation,” said Ivanka Miteva, 74.
Welcome or not so far, no Afghan refugee has traveled to the Balkans to find out.