Time is running out for Australian citizens, residents and temporary protection visa holders trying to escape the Taliban’s clutches.
- American President Joe Biden says the last US flight will leave Kabul next Tuesday
- 7.30 has been told a one-year-old Australian child is among those currently trapped in Afghanistan’s capital
- The Australian government says with the assistance of partners, it has evacuated about 4,000 people since last week
US President Joe Biden has declared the last US flight will leave Kabul next Tuesday, taking any remaining US soldiers with it and dashing the hopes of those left behind.
France has announced its flights will stop on Friday night. Australia is yet to say when its evacuation operation will cease, but it too will wrap up before the Americans.
“The entire [foreign] operation, from the coordination at the gates through to the management of the airport itself is, I mean, it’s utterly chaotic,” Australian photojournalist Andrew Quilty told 7.30.
Quilty’s been in Afghanistan since 2013 and knows the capital well.
“You have now a situation where there are about four main gates where people are trying to access the airport,” he said.
“At each one of those, you have thousands of people trying to gain entry.
“I mean, you’ve got families with young children, toddlers who can’t even walk on their own, being thrust into these, you know, seething crowds of similarly desperate people who will literally do just about anything [to escape].”
Australian citizens still not out
In an unverified video posted on Twitter by a French freelance journalist in Kabul, a man with blood running down his face declares, “I’m an Australian citizen,” before telling the camera he has been bashed by nearby Taliban soldiers.
It is a worrying sign for those back in Australia waiting for news of loved ones.
Ahmed, whose name we have changed to protect his identity, is a former interpreter for the Australian Defence Force who was resettled in Australia in 2017 with his family.
His wife and four children went back to visit relatives, and are now trapped.
“My wife, she already had anxiety when she was here. And it must have increased now, as I’m talking to her, trying to tell her to calm down and everything will be alright,” Ahmed told 7.30.
“I’ve got a daughter, she’s 14, and I’ve got three boys — 12, eight, and a one and a half-year-old,” he said.
Each day this week, Ahmed’s family has attempted to reach the safety of the tarmac at Kabul airport.
Each day, they’ve been refused entry. It’s not clear why.
“It is very distressful and hard for them. Especially for my young children,” Ahmed said.
“They hear this gunfire every day in the airport area. And especially when they go to the airport to get into the airport. So because of the [crowds] the Taliban or the other people are trying to control them, and there is lots of gunfire and … [it’s a] completely distressing situation.”
For a man who has served beside Australian soldiers and knows the nature of the Taliban, Ahmed remains optimistic.
“There is hope,” he said.
“Hopefully, yeah, they will get here. And they will be alright.”
‘I’m planning to stay’
Andrew Quilty has decided to stay in Afghanistan for the moment because of his strong network of friends and local contacts.
“We’ve really relied on each other heavily the last week, and I don’t think any one of us would have wanted to have been here on their own,” Quilty told 7.30.
For those Australian citizens, residents and visa holders, he said, “the clock definitely is ticking”.
“That deadline of the 31st of August is the American deadline,” he said.
“I would imagine that the Australians and all the other countries who are managing these evacuations will not be there at the 11th hour on the 31st of August.
“For every person that is able to get through the airport and get on a flight, there’s 10 more who are asking for help.”