RAWALPINDI: The first chartered flight will depart from Islamabad International Airport to the United Kingdom (UK) to relocate about 200 Afghan refugees on Thursday (today).
According to the British newspaper, The Independent, around 3,000 Afghans, many of whom worked for the British army, were evacuated to be provided residence in the UK following the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021.
They have been stuck in Pakistan since last year when the UK authorities made accommodation arrangements a prerequisite for repatriation. Hundreds are also trapped in Iran waiting for the relocation.
The UK government had pledged to move all Afghans eligible for resettlement even without a confirmed accommodation before coming to Britain, as per the British newspaper.
The decision came after Pakistan issued an ultimatum to all undocumented foreign nationals to leave by Nov 1 or risk deportation.
A delegation from the British High Commission, led by Political Consul Zoe Ware, visited Islamabad International Airport and held a meeting with senior officials from the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) on Tuesday.
The meeting was attended by senior civil aviation officials, led by Director Security, retired Air Commodore Shahid Qadir, including COO/Airport Manager IIAP Syed Aftab Gilani and his security team. A spokesman for the CAA said that the British High Commission and Civil Aviation officials discussed measures regarding special flights for the transfer of Afghan refugees to the UK.
The spokesman said that representatives from the Anti-Narcotics Force, Federal Investigation Agency, Customs, Airport Security Force, and PIA were also present on this occasion.
A senior CAA official mentioned that the repatriation of around 2,000 Afghan refugees will be completed in mid-December, with one or two weekly chartered flights from Islamabad to the UK. The lists of Afghan refugees who had cooperated with NATO forces were prepared by the UK and NATO authorities.
Mock emergency exercise
Separately, a full-scale mock emergency exercise was carried out at Peshawar Airport to assess the effectiveness of the airport’s disaster plan and emergency response. The spokesperson stated that the exercise provided an opportunity for all internal and external stakeholders to practice dealing with a real-time emergency situation that could occur at the airport.
The exercise included a firefighting operation to control a kerosene oil fire at a fire pit. The crash fire tenders from the CAA, Pakistan Air Force, Rescue 1122, and Army Aviation participated in the firefighting operation.
The CAA crash fire tenders responded to the emergency call within two minutes and successfully extinguished the fuel fire within one minute using a foam water solution.
The event was attended by Ahmed Rasool Bangash, Provincial Minister for Revenue Finance, Excise and Taxation, and Narcotics Control, as well as Air Cdr Inam Ullah Khan, Base Commander of PAF base Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2023