openDemocracyUK: News

‘We’re stuck, everyone is hungry’: Afghan evacuees stranded at UK airport

Exclusive: Passengers tell openDemocracy they’ve been forced to remain in Birmingham Airport for more than 24 hours after landing

Martin Williams
25 August 2021, 12.53pm
Passengers say they had to wait on the plane for eight hours after it landed at Birmingham Airport yesterday.
BPM Media

People evacuated from Afghanistan have told openDemocracy they are still stranded at Birmingham airport – more than 24 hours after their flight landed.

“We’re just completely stuck,” said one passenger. “The children are in a bad situation and everyone is on the floor.”

Speaking from the airport, this morning, he said that “everyone is hungry” because the last time they were offered any food was at 3am.

After landing at lunchtime on Tuesday, the evacuees – including babies and children – were apparently kept on the plane for eight hours before finally being let out into the airport.

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The passengers were then left waiting in the airport overnight, without being given an explanation. At the time of writing, they are still waiting to get out.

Photos and videos obtained by openDemocracy show terrible conditions on the plane and in the airport, with dirty toilets and children crying.

The last time we had toast [the only food available] was 3 o’clock this morning

“The condition of the flight was really bad,” said one passenger. “There was only one thing we could eat – the same thing for adults and children.”

“The people from the airport, they didn’t even come to say ‘OK, we’re in this situation where you have to wait’. They didn’t even come to say hello.

He said: “The children are in a bad situation and everyone is on the floor. The last time we had toast [the only food available] was 3 o’clock this morning… Everyone is hungry.

“I have been asking them since last night to get a cup of coffee. We couldn’t get a cup of coffee, they say they’re not allowed to give us anything like that.”

The passenger – who is a British citizen – said he had been in Afghanistan to visit family. His journey back to the UK has now taken more than four days, having set off to Kabul airport on Saturday morning. It took more than eight hours for his family to push through crowds at Kabul airport before they reached the British Army.

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Another evacuee waiting at the airport said there were not enough blankets provided at Birmingham Airport. “I myself didn’t get the chance to have a blanket because the blanket was for children,” he said. “Children were crying through the night. It’s exhausting.”

A government spokesperson told openDemocracy: “We take the welfare of those in our care incredibly seriously and are working round the clock to process all arrivals from Afghanistan as quickly as possible at airports, and so far we have evacuated more than 10,000 people.

“The government operates robust and extensive border checks such as taking fingerprints, therefore the arrival process can take longer than usual. However, all arrivals waiting are provided with food and drink and there is medical support on hand should anyone require it. We are standing up other airports to distribute arrivals more equitably and speed up the process.”

A spokesperson for Birmingham Airport – which is responsible for facilities and cleaning standards – said: “We are working tirelessly to support the humanitarian effort which we stood up at extremely short notice to assist the UK government and the thousands of people being repatriated into the UK from Afghanistan.

“Every effort is being made by the entire airport community, as well as voluntary, charity and government agencies, to coordinate this very complex and sensitive operation. However, the nature of the flights, with the added complexity that they are from a ‘red list’ country, carrying people who have been evacuated under extraordinary circumstances has meant that the arrival and border process has been lengthy at times, but has now improved and stabilised.

“We thank everyone involved so far for their hard work and kindness to provide food, water, blankets, baby products, clothing, toiletries and first aid support and for putting passenger welfare at the centre of this emergency coordinated effort.”

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