Reports of desperate people passing children over the walls at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital hoping that soldiers will take them to safety has prompted a top British official to note they can’t evacuate unaccompanied minors.
As he watched a video of a small girl being handed over the heads of a crowd across a high barrier at the airport, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News that refugees from Kabul will be helped out of the country together as families.
The U.K. government “cannot just take a minor on their own,” Wallace said.
He said that clips of parents trying to send their children out lacked context.
“You will find as you see in the footage I think you’re showing now, the child was taken — that will be because the family will be taken as well,” he said on Sky News.
Accounts and videos from around the Kabul airport show some people tossing their children to soldiers on the other side of walls that, in many cases, are topped by razor wire.
The British tabloid The Sun quoted a parachute regiment officer saying: “The mothers were desperate, they were getting beaten by the Taliban. They shouted ‘save my baby’ and threw the babies at us, some of the babies fell on the barbed wire. It was awful what happened. By the end of the night there wasn’t one man among us who was not crying.”
Sky News interviewed a senior officer in Afghanistan who confirmed the chaotic scene: “It was terrible, women were throwing babies over the razor wire, asking soldiers to take them, some got caught in the wire.”
According to the Associated Press, about 15,000 Americans remained in Afghanistan last weekend, though it’s unclear who in that group is a dual citizen, an aid worker or U.S. government personnel.
Other NATO countries like France and the U.K. are working to evacuate their citizens and personnel.
Americans stuck in the country amid the military withdrawal have been left without safe transport to the Kabul airport. There have also been reports of challenges passing through Taliban checkpoints — though U.S. officials say the Taliban knows it must not interfere.
And, according to accounts from reporters on the ground, once evacuees arrive at the airport, they are faced with navigating a crush of people and a confusing entry system.
“It will be the challenge trying to make it through that crowd,” Wallace, the British defense secretary, acknowledged on Sky News. “We are finding other ways of dealing with that, but that is what’s happening.”
Tens of thousands of Aghans are seeking to leave the country, President Joe Biden said this week.
Human rights activists say women and children will be particularly vulnerable in the war-torn country now that the Taliban has taken over.
A United Nations report released in May found that more women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first of half of 2021 than any year since 2009, when the agency began tracking the deaths.
“Women and children made up close to half of all these civilian casualties at 46 percent,” the report states, saying more than 5,000 civilians had been killed in the first five months of the year as the Taliban resumed taking over territory in the country.