EU Commission President: Taking Afghan Migrants Is ‘Our Moral Duty’

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

MADRID (AP) — The President of the European Commission has urged the international community to open arms for Afghan refugees.

Ursula von der Leyen made the remarks on Saturday when she and EU Council President Charles Michel visited a reception center for evacuees established by Spain’s government near Madrid.

“This resettlement of vulnerable people is of utmost importance. It is our moral duty,” Von der Leyen said. Offering “legal and safe routes globally, organized by us, the international community, for those who need protection” must be a priority of next week’s G7 meeting on the Afghanistan crisis, she added.

The EU’s top officials toured the facility that Spain has set up at the Torrejón military airbase near Madrid along with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who said it has the capacity to hold 800 people.

Two planes sent by Spain’s government have already arrived at the air base. A first plane brought back five Spaniards and 48 Afghans who had worked for Spain and their families. A second flight arrived late on Friday night with 110 more Afghans. A third flight with another 110 passengers has left Kabul for Dubai, which Spain is using as a stop-off point before the evacuees are flown on to Madrid.

The air base is also receiving flights from the European Union External Action service with other evacuees from Afghanistan airlifted out of Kabul by other EU countries.

EU officials and those of member states like Spain, however, recognize that the main hurdle to getting people out of Afghanistan is helping them reach and gain access to the airport. Spain says that its flights have had empty seats.

Von der Leyen said EU delegation members are constantly at the airport to try and help. “It is very difficult situation, it is changing by the minutes, but there is intense work being done to make the best of a very difficult situation.”

The evacuees that reach Spain’s air base are expected to spend up to three days there before moving to welcome centres in other parts of Spain or continuing their journeys to other European countries.

Sánchez said that the response from other EU members has been positive and that part of those who have arrived have already left for other countries in the bloc.

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