World

Life in limbo: Afghan refugees wait in Qatar for what’s next

DOHA, Qatar — For the tens of thousands of Afghans who were able to flee Kabul on one of the U.S. evacuation flights, the journey has just begun. The promise of resettlement and a new life is still far off for many who left their homeland after the Taliban seized power. Instead, a limbo in the middle of the desert awaits.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Scores of people have been shuttled from the Kabul airport to Al Udeid Air Base near Doha — the main transit point for Afghan citizens seeking to go to the United States. There they wait for their papers to be processed before they move to the next destination.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

C-17s are parked on the tarmac at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Aug. 31, 2021.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Known for its strategic location for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and its sprawling meters of asphalt peppered with top-of-the-line aircraft, Al Udeid has seemingly overnight become a camp for the displaced.

Refugees sleep and gather on makeshift cots in an airport hangar, surrounded by their belongings, the few things they have left from their home country.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Afghan refugees board a bus on the tarmac of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Aug. 31, 2021.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Afghan refugees board a bus at Al Udeid.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Afghans wait in a hangar at Al Udeid.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Many don’t know how long they will be there. By Tuesday, the deadline for U.S. withdrawal, at least 55,000 asylum seekers had landed in Doha, the U.S. military said. The Qatari Foreign Ministry said about 20,000 remained in the country. They wait in the American and Qatari parts of the base, where sanitation and living conditions have deteriorated, and in housing complexes in industrial parts of Doha.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Children hoping to play outside have to withstand the sweltering Qatari heat. On Tuesday, the temperature reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, it went down to around 90. The temperatures inside the hangar have also been described as stifling. On one 94-degree night, evacuees reportedly held up signs that said “I can’t breathe.”

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Some Afghans have grown impatient, ready to get on another flight to another unknown place.

“We’re really grateful to the soldiers,” Sayed Harris Khelwati, 31, told The Washington Post on Aug. 21. “But there’s just a lot of frustration. You lose your country, and some people got here without even a backpack. We don’t have any information about where we’re going or when.”

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Al Udeid is one of the main transit points for the evacuation of Afghan nationals to the United States.

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post

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Credits

Editing by Olivier Laurent and Reem Akkad.