Korea airlifting 380 Afghans out of Kabul
Three Korean military planes are airlifting some 380 Afghans and their family members out of the war-torn country, Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon said in a briefing Wednesday that these Afghans, who supported Seoul's embassy and worked on Korean government humanitarian aid projects over the years, will arrive at Incheon International Airport Thursday.
Korean military planes were flown to Pakistan and Afghanistan to bring back Afghans who supported Korean government activities in Afghanistan and their relatives, Seoul's Foreign Ministry initially confirmed Tuesday evening.
The military aircraft arrived in Islamabad Monday, said Choi, and began transporting the Afghans out of Kabul to the Pakistani capital Tuesday.
The evacuees include medical professionals, IT experts, interpreters and other local staff who have worked for many years at the Korean Embassy in Afghanistan, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica), the Korean Hospital in Bagram, the Korean Vocational Training Center and a provincial reconstruction team in Charikar. Their spouses, children and parents are included on the list.
However, the final number of evacuees bound for Korea was fewer than the 427 Afghans that had been expected.
Choi said that as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, many appealed to the Korean embassy for assistance to fly to Korea, raising concerns over their personal safety.
He stressed that these Afghans "are not refugees, but come to Korea as people of special merit."
This is the first time the Korean government has decided to accept foreigners from a conflict zone on a large scale and relocate them to Korea for humanitarian reasons.
The Korean government initially considered transporting the Afghan evacuees on foreign chartered planes, but decided to deploy military transport planes after the situation in Kabul rapidly deteriorated.
When the Afghans arrive in Korea, they will be isolated for two weeks at the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong, following Covid-19 quarantine measures.
They will arrive on short-term permits, which can be later changed to longer-term visas, said Seoul officials. They will be provided with guidance on resettling in Korea over the next two months. The Foreign Ministry plans to provide support should they wish to settle in Korea, or move to another country.
Officials said that background checks have already been conducted on the evacuees flying into Korea.
As of August, there were 434 Afghans residing in Korea legally on short or long-term visas, according to the Justice Ministry.
The ministry has decided to allow foreign students who have completed their studies and short-term visitors who are usually allowed to stay up to 90 days to continue to reside and work in Korea with special permits if they want to stay in country.
Some 70 Afghans residing in Korea illegally will not be deported. They will be allowed to leave the country voluntarily after the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes.
The Justice Ministry said special stay permits will be granted after background checks of the individuals, taking into consideration public safety and terrorism concerns.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]