Afghanistan: 15 more people with links to Switzerland leave the country
The Taliban have taken power in Afghanistan and the situation is extremely tense. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) provides the latest news on Afghanistan in this constantly updated news ticker.
The people of Afghanistan face an uncertain future after the Taliban swept into Kabul on 15 August 2021. © Keystone
17.09.2021 – 15 more people with links to Switzerland leave the country
Since 27.08.2021 (date of the last FDFA press release), an additional 15 people with links to Switzerland have been able to leave Afghanistan, thanks to support from the Pakistani authorities and the Swiss embassy in Islamabad. The group included seven Swiss citizens and eight foreign nationals with a Swiss residence permit. They first travelled overland to Pakistan before catching a flight back to Switzerland. Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis thanked the Pakistani authorities for their invaluable support.
Twelve more people with links to Switzerland and who wish to leave are still in Afghanistan (four Swiss citizens and eight foreign nationals with a Swiss residence permit). The Swiss embassy in Islamabad, which is responsible for consular affairs in Afghanistan, is in contact with them and the FDFA is working hard to ensure that they can also leave the country.
27.08.2021 – Switzerland completes evacuation operation
A total of 385 people were flown from Afghanistan to Switzerland. This is one of the largest evacuation operations in Switzerland. The FDFA remains in contact with the eleven Swiss nationals who are still in Afghanistan. The evacuation operation is concluded and the crisis cell is deactivated.
All SDC local staff and their families evacuated from Kabul
The FDFA-chartered plane from Tashkent landed at Zurich Airport on the night of 24 August 2021. On board were 219 people evacuated from Kabul, including 141 members of the SDC's local staff and their families. The remaining local SDC employees and their families have already been able to leave Kabul and are awaiting repatriation to Switzerland.
All local staff wishing to leave Afghanistan have now been evacuated from the Afghan capital. "This means that one of the largest evacuation operations in Switzerland is almost over. I am relieved and would like to thank everyone who made this possible," said Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis at the press conference.
At present, 15 Swiss nationals are still in Afghanistan. Switzerland is continuing its efforts to ensure that they can also be evacuated.
To date, as of Tuesday 23 August, a total of 292 persons with a connection to Switzerland have been able to leave Afghanistan thanks to the efforts made by Switzerland in collaboration with its partner countries, particularly Germany. "We are especially grateful to our German friends and neighbours for their tremendous support during this evacuation operation," said Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis.
The SWISS charter flight to Tashkent took off from Zurich on Monday 22 August, and returned to Zurich Airport shortly after 1am today. On board were 219 people, including 141 local SDC staff and their immediate families, as well as 78 passengers of Afghan, German and Swedish nationality. With this flight, Switzerland has made a tangible contribution to the international community's evacuation efforts.
The Swiss embassy in Islamabad, which provides consular services for Afghanistan, is also in regular contact with the 15 Swiss nationals still in Afghanistan. Switzerland is working hard to ensure that they can also leave the country.
Evacuees from Afghanistan placed in federal asylum centres
The evacuees who arrived in Switzerland this morning completed all the required checks at the airport (passport controls and body and luggage searches), and have been assigned to different federal asylum centres. Care has been taken to keep families together. All of the evacuees were tested for COVID-19. Two of them were ordered to self-isolate after testing positive.
A first security check was already carried out when the persons concerned were recruited by the FDFA. A second check was carried out by the Federal Intelligence Service before the SEM issued them with a humanitarian visa. This check did not reveal any security-relevant information affecting the evacuees' admission to Switzerland. If necessary, a third check will be carried out at the federal asylum centre. The families will probably spend several weeks in the asylum centres before they are assigned to accommodation in the various cantons.
Admission to Switzerland's resettlement programme
132 of those who have arrived in Switzerland so far will be admitted to Switzerland's resettlement programme. They will be accorded refugee status and will be allowed to stay in Switzerland. As resettlement refugees, they will not complete the regular asylum procedure, and will only have to undergo identity checks (fingerprinting, security checks, etc.). Once they arrive in the cantons, all of the refugees will take part in a cantonal integration programme. The Federal Council has already approved a quota of 1,900 resettlement refugees for the 2022–23 period.
Switzerland concerned about the situation in Afghanistan
Switzerland today took part in a special session on Afghanistan at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. It expressed deep concern about the attacks on human rights defenders and minorities, and stressed the importance of independent investigations into human rights violations.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains of great concern. The high levels of violence have greatly added to the hardships faced by people in Afghanistan and forced many to flee in search of safety and protection. In response to this situation, Switzerland intends to pursue its commitments even in the current context.
The FDFA is currently examining several appeals for assistance from major international organisations. In the coming days, it will decide how best to help the Afghan people, who are in a situation of great humanitarian need. Of Afghanistan's 38 million inhabitants, 18 million currently depend on humanitarian aid. This figure has doubled since the beginning of the year.
While it is essential to respond with short-term humanitarian relief, it is also important to consider the medium and long term. Finally, at the diplomatic level, Switzerland is also prepared to provide good offices as a host state, as part of an international conference or by facilitating talks between the parties.
Evacuation from Kabul: Swiss charter flight heading for Tashkent
On 23 August 2021 at 10.30am, a SWISS aircraft chartered by the FDFA took off from Zurich for the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The plane will bring people who were recently evacuated from Kabul back to Europe. With this flight, Switzerland is supporting the airlift to bring people out of Afghanistan. So far, around 100 people with a Swiss connection have been flown out of Kabul. The first local SDC staff and their families were also able to leave Kabul yesterday.
A SWISS charter flight to Tashkent announced for Saturday 21 August had to be postponed at short notice because of the precarious situation around Kabul airport, but the 300-seat aircraft was able to depart this morning from Zurich bound for the Uzbek capital. It will return to Switzerland with people on board who have been evacuated from Kabul.
After the international partners severely restricted their evacuation flights on Saturday owing to the tense security situation in Kabul, on Sunday flights could be resumed, flying more people out of Kabul to Tashkent. To free up space in Tashkent for new military aircraft from Kabul, people must be able to fly on to Europe without delay. With the SWISS charter flight, Switzerland is making a concrete contribution to the international community's evacuation efforts.
Swiss nationals and SDC local staff flown out of Kabul
For the first time, local staff of the Swiss cooperation office and their families were able to make it inside Kabul airport on Sunday. These 70 or so people have already been airlifted to Tashkent by the German Bundeswehr and are now awaiting their onward flight to Switzerland. An additional 30 people with a Swiss connection have also been flown out so far.
This means that as of today, Monday 23 August, a total of around 100 people have been airlifted from Afghanistan as part of Switzerland's evacuation efforts. Switzerland is working with the utmost urgency to ensure that more people can leave Kabul.
Relief supplies bound for Uzbekistan
The SWISS aircraft is also carrying personal protective equipment against COVID-19 to Tashkent, including 1.3 million face masks provided by the Swiss Armed Forces Pharmacy. The masks will be officially handed over to the Uzbek authorities on arrival. Eight members of the FDFA's Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) are also on board.
Two doctors will accompany the evacuees on the flight back to Switzerland while the other six will remain in Tashkent to reinforce the team on the ground. The flight will also be accompanied by eight members of the Federal Office of Police (fedpol), who will be responsible for security on board.
Flight to Tashkent postponed
Aufgrund der schwierigen Sicherheitslage am Flughafen in Kabul hat das EDA entschieden, den für heute 21.8. geplanten Flug nach Taschkent kurzfristig zu verschieben
Die Sicherheitslage rund um den Flughafen Kabul hat sich in den letzten Stunden deutlich verschlechtert. Eine grosse Anzahl von Menschen vor dem Flughafen und teilweise gewalttätige Ausschreitungen verhindern im Moment praktisch den Zugang zum Flughafen in Kabul. Deshalb können aktuell nur wenige Personen von Kabul nach Taschkent ausgeflogen werden. Weil der Bedarf für Evakuierungen aus Taschkent im Moment nicht gegeben ist, hat das EDA den für heute geplanten Charterflug in die Hauptstadt von Usbekistan kurzfristig verschoben. Der für die Schweiz wichtige Partner Deutschland hat für heute geplante Flüge ebenfalls abgesagt. Auch andere Länder haben zunehmend Schwierigkeiten, ihre Staatsangehörigen und Lokalangestellte aus Afghanistan zu bringen. Das EDA verfolgt die Situation weiterhin eng und arbeitet mit Hochdruck an verschiedenen Evakuierungs-Optionen.
Swiss SDC staff evacuated from Kabul
The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating dramatically. The FDFA has closed the Swiss cooperation office in Kabul and evacuated its Swiss staff. The last three remaining SDC staff members arrived in Switzerland on 17 August 2021. Efforts are under way to find a solution that will enable the FDFA's local employees and their immediate families to also leave Afghanistan. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is also adapting its programme to the changing situation on the ground.
The Taliban has seized power in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops. It appears that Taliban leaders took control of the presidential palace on Sunday, 15 August. According to multiple reports, the Afghan president has already fled the country, and Afghanistan is now without an effective government. Speaking at a press conference on 13 August 2021, State Secretary Livia Leu said that the grave security situation in the country is concerning. She added that Switzerland condemns the alleged violations of international law, including alleged crimes under international law, and urges all actors involved to abide by international humanitarian law and to respect human rights, especially the rights of minorities and those of women and girls.
The rapidly deteriorating security situation and rising number of civilian victims of the conflict led the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to announce last week that all remaining Swiss cooperation office staff will be evacuated from Kabul to Switzerland as quickly as possible.
Speaking on Friday about the priority evacuation of Swiss cooperation office personnel, State Secretary Leu stressed that "The safety of our staff is paramount". Prior to recent events, six Swiss nationals and 38 local employees had worked at the cooperation office in Kabul.
In the early hours of 16 August 2021, the last three remaining transferable employees from the Swiss cooperation office boarded a US military aircraft, along with other international personnel, as part of an operation to evacuate German Embassy staff. They were flown out of Kabul to the Qatari capital, Doha. The SDC staff arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday, 17 August 2021.
Local employees still on the ground
The 38 local employees of the Swiss cooperation office have not yet been able to leave the country. The FDFA is working flat out to find a solution for them and their immediate families. At Friday's press conference, State Secretary for Migration, Mario Gattiker, announced that this group of roughly 230 people will receive a humanitarian visa for Switzerland. He explained that there is a risk that their lives could be in serious danger if the Taliban were to view them as Western collaborators because of their work with the Swiss cooperation office. However, the volatile and unpredictable situation in Kabul, particularly at the city's airport, is making it difficult for local SDC employees to leave the country.
Cooperation office shuttered since Sunday
The SDC opened its cooperation office in Kabul in 2002. Staff there are responsible for running Switzerland's development cooperation programme for Afghanistan. On Sunday morning, the SDC closed its office in Kabul, as it is unable to carry out its mandate under the current circumstances.
During a press conference last week State Secretary Leu explained that Afghanistan remains a priority country for the SDC, adding that "The aim of Switzerland's development programme and humanitarian aid efforts in Afghanistan is to promote the rule of law, agriculture and basic education, and alleviate the suffering of the internally displaced and returnees."
Switzerland intends to maintain its international cooperation programmes
Switzerland will need to review how it can continue its work in Afghanistan given the new circumstances. The SDC is currently liaising with local and international partners to ascertain what it can do to help meet needs on the ground. It will also adapt its current and future programmes accordingly. Although Switzerland has long enjoyed a close working relationship with the government, NGOs and international organisations in Afghanistan, it remains to be seen when the SDC can resume its work on ground.
Humanitarian needs in Afghanistan and surrounding regions will rise in the future. "We are looking into how we can best help our partners meet these needs", explains the director general. The SDC is also developing its cooperation programme with Afghanistan for 2023–25.
Why Switzerland also engages in fragile contexts
Switzerland places great emphasis on the stabilisation of fragile countries, such as Afghanistan, as this creates future prospects and alleviates poverty and suffering. To ensure the effectiveness of its foreign policy, Switzerland adopts a coherent and strategic approach. Derived from its Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23, the International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24 efforts focus on four key areas: jobs, climate, rule of law and reduction of the causes of displacement and irregular migration.
The Swiss embassy in Pakistan, which has consular responsibility for Afghanistan, is in contact with the 20 or so Swiss nationals registered with the embassy in Islamabad. Those citizens who need assistance to leave Afghanistan should immediately contact the Swiss embassy in Islamabad
(firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: +92 300 856 4052).