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Afghan refugee flight arrives in Spain

A plane carrying around 300 Afghans who worked for Spain and their families arrived in Madrid from Pakistan on Wednesday, one year on from the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares was at Madrid’s Torrejon de Ardoz airbase to meet them when the flight from Islamabad landed at Madrid’s Torrejon de Ardoz airbase at around 10:15 pm (2015 GMT).

The government would now work “to help these people to integrate, given that it will be difficult for them to return to Afghanistan in the near future”, Albares told reporters at the airport.

Like other Western nations, Spain in August 2021 rushed to evacuate Afghans who helped Spanish troops and diplomats, as Taliban insurgents made rapid territorial gains across Afghanistan.

Spain evacuated more than 2,000 people during the Western withdrawal as the Taliban seized power.

Most of them were Afghans at risk of reprisals from the new Taliban rulers for having worked for Spanish forces or the Spanish embassy during nearly two decades of NATO presence in Afghanistan.

But the flights had to stop once the final US troops that had been protecting Kabul’s airport left at the end of August 2021.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at the time that Madrid would not “lose interest in the Afghans who had remained” in their country but wanted to leave.

Since then a handful of planes have brought hundreds more Afghan citizens to Spain who had managed to cross into other nations such as Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.

Madrid sent some 27,000 troops to Afghanistan over almost 20 years of involvement in the conflict. A total of 102 of its soldiers died.