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AFGHANISTAN

Spain ends evacuations of Afghan collaborators and their families from Kabul

Spain said on Friday that it has ended its evacuations out of Kabul, just over a week after it began airlifting its citizens in the wake of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

Spain ends evacuations of Afghan collaborators and their families from Kabul
Refugees queue on the tarmac after disembarking from an evacuation flight from Kabul, at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

“The Spanish evacuation of its Afghan collaborators and their families has been completed,” the government said in a statement.

Two final flights landed in Dubai early Friday morning, it added.

On board were 81 Spanish citizens who had still been in Afghanistan, including embassy personnel, army and navy troops, four Portuguese troops and 85 Afghans who had been working for Spain, Portugal and NATO.

They will fly on to the military base of Torrejón de Ardoz, near Madrid, in the afternoon on an Air Europa plane, the government said.

In total, the Spanish armed forces have evacuated 1,900 Afghans, employees and their families who were working for Spain, the United States, Portugal, the European Union, the United Nations and NATO, as well as the staff of the Spanish embassy in Kabul.

Madrid used military planes to fly the evacuees to Dubai, where they then transferred to commercial flights to Europe.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had vowed to evacuate “as many people as possible” out of Kabul following the twin suicide bombings at the Afghan capital’s airport.

During the hugely complex evacuation operations put in place after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, Spain flew out a lot of Afghan employees of EU institutions, who are housed at the Torrejón de Ardoz base before being distributed among EU member states.

Spain has also agreed to host up to 4,000 Afghans who will be airlifted by the United States to airbases in Rota and Moron de la Frontera in southern Spain.

Under an agreement signed by Madrid and Washington, the evacuees may stay at the airbases, which are used jointly by the United States and Spain, for up to 15 days.

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POLITICS

Why Madrid has become a haven for Latin American dissidents

Well-known faces of Cuba's protest have in recent years gone into exile in Madrid, which is rivalling Miami as a haven for Latin American political opponents.

Why Madrid has become a haven for Latin American dissidents

“Miami has always been the destination of those who suffered from Latin American dictatorships,” Cuban dissident and playwright Yunior García, who went into self-imposed exile in Madrid in November, told AFP.

But now “many Latin Americans are choosing to come to Spain,” added García, one of the organisers of a failed mass protest last year in the Communist-ruled island.

The Spanish capital is especially attractive for an artist and dissident fleeing a dictatorship because of its “bohemian” atmosphere, García said.

Spain has long drawn migrants from its former colonies in Latin America who have often sought work in low-wage jobs as cleaners or waiters — but in recent years prominent exiles have joined the influx.

Award-winning Nicaraguan writer and former vice president Sergio Ramírez and Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López, a former mayor of Chacao, an upmarket district of Caracas, are among those who have moved to Madrid.

“Madrid is the new Miami, the new place where so many hispanics come fleeing dictatorship,” said Toni Cantó, the head of a Madrid regional government body charged with promoting the region as the “European capital of Spanish”.

Many Latin Americans are able to establish themselves easily in Spain because they have double citizenship, in many cases because their ancestors came from the country.

Others like García arrive on a tourist visa and then request asylum.

Sometimes, especially in the case of prominent Venezuelan opposition leaders, the government has rolled out the welcome mat and granted them Spanish citizenship.

Cuban political dissident Carolina Barrero is pictured during an AFP interview in Madrid. Spain has long drawn migrants from its former colonies in Latin America who have often sought work in low-wage jobs, but in recent years prominent exilees have joined the influx. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Good option’

Contacted by AFP, Spain’s central government declined to comment.

But shortly after García arrived in Spain, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares told parliament that Latin Americans “share our values, they look naturally to Europe”.

For Cubans, getting a visa to enter the United States has been even more complicated in recent years since Washington closed its consulate in Havana in 2017. It only partially reopened in May.

“Spain is a very good option,” said Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez, who fled to Spain in January when he finally was able to obtain a passport after years of being denied one.

Spain has received previous waves of Cuban dissidents in the past.

Under an agreement between Cuba, Spain and the Catholic Church, in 2010 and 2011, more than 110 Cuban political prisoners arrived in Madrid, accompanied by dozens of relatives.

There are now about 62,000 Cubans officially registered in Spain, with Madrid home to the largest community.

Cuba is “a pressure cooker, and ever time pressure builds” Havana eases it by forcing dissidents into exile, said Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, the head of the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory for Human Rights who fled to Spain in 2008.

Cuban journalist Mónica Baró is pictured at her home in Madrid. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Lost everything’

Cuban independent journalist Mónica Baró said she left Cuba for Madrid in 2021 because she said she could no longer bear the “harassment” of Cuban state security forces.

Madrid shares the same language and has a “shared culture”, as well as a well-established network of Cubans, that has helped her overcome the “traumas” she brought with her, Baro added.

But not knowing if she will ever see her parents, who remained in Cuba, again saddens her.

“When you leave like I did, you have the feeling that you buried your parents,” said Baró, who faces arrest if she returns to Cuba.

García said he welcomed the absence in Madrid of the deep “resentment” and “rage” towards the Cuban regime found in Miami among its much larger community of Cuban exiles, which he said was “natural”.

These are people “who had to leave on a raft, who lost everything they had in Cuba, whose family suffered jail time and sometimes death,” he said.

Madrid on the other hand, provides “tranquility to think things through,” he added.

“I don’t want anger, resentment, to win me over,” García said.

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