An Afghan family is reunited in Pantin, near Paris, August 30, 2021 | Photo: Reuters
An Afghan family is reunited in Pantin, near Paris, August 30, 2021 | Photo: Reuters

Over a period of 11 days, nearly 2,600 Afghan citizens were evacuated from Kabul to France. In Paris, they faced a series of checks and procedures before being relocated to various regions.

Between August 16 and August 27, 2,600 Afghan nationals threatened by the Taliban were evacuated on 15 emergency French flights. "The special operation set up at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle has now been dismantled," said Didier Leschi, director general of OFII, the French immigration office.

Delphine Rouilleault, director general of France terre d'asile, an association helping asylum seekers, who was present at Roissy, told the French newspaper Le Figaro about the humanitarian aspect of the operation. Many families, women and children were among the new arrivals. "We offered them a temporary relief: sleep, food, a change of clothes... When you have nothing left, that's all you can think about," she explained.

For ten days, French aid associations and interpreters were mobilized on the tarmac of the Paris airport to welcome hundreds of Afghans who disembarked from planes every day.

According to Leschi, the profile of those rescued in recent days is not the same as the Afghan asylum seekers who have come to France in recent years. "They are essentially people from urban civil society, former civil servants, journalists, artists, directors, actors, intellectuals." People who, like many others who have remained in Afghanistan, "are most likely to be in danger" from the Taliban, according to OFII.

Identity checks

In addition to the humanitarian reception, the 2,600 Afghans who arrived in Paris were subjected to a battery of checks. "Before being directed to accommodation centers, they had to undergo several checks inside the airport," explains Leschi.

He insists that security checks were thorough, despite concerns raised by some, including far-right groups, that terrorists might be among the evacuees. "We carried out a verification process with the DGEF (the General Directorate for Foreigners in France) which relies on the Ministry of the Interior, the police... We have verified the identities, we have mobilized many interpreters for this."

"It was only after several hours of verification that the Afghans were allowed to leave Roissy," Leschi added.

All the Afghan newcomers were also given a PCR test (which checks for the presence of the COVID-19 virus) and then placed in 10-day quarantine in different hotels.

Most of these people are now in Ile-de-France, but some were sent to the provinces. Between 15 and 20 municipalities, including Strasbourg, Lyon and Lille, are currently hosting Afghan nationals transferred from Kabul, according to the Inter-ministerial Directorate for the Reception and Integration of Refugees (DIAIR).

Read more: 'I hope France will not abandon me', says Afghan woman who worked for French troops

Hotels, then CADA

"I am delighted that, in the face of a dramatic situation, we can show solidarity," said Jeanne Barseghian, the mayor of Strasbourg and member of the French green party "Europe Ecology", at a press conference last week.

Once they have completed quarantine and can leave emergency accommodation, all Afghan asylum seekers will be welcomed in CADA (Reception Centers for Asylum Seekers), which are located throughout the French territory, Leschi, the head of OFII, also announced.

On the administrative side, special protocols are also being put in place, including a "special one-stop shop" to register asylum applications, which opened in Paris on Monday August 30. A group of about 20 additional staff have been called in to help keep applications flowing smoothly.

Housing, language, employment

OFII hopes the municipalities that will host the Afghans will assist with the key elements of integration: finding housing, providing language courses, and helping them to enter the labor market.

"What is important now is to accompany them on their way to autonomy," explains Leschi.

"Mayors are essential to help form a connection between the original population and the new arrivals," said Damien Carême, former mayor of Grande-Synthe and co-president of the National Association of Welcoming Cities and Territories (Anvita). The association has called for "the mobilization of all elected officials in order to offer a concerted welcome to the children, women and men fleeing Afghanistan."


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