Albania gets 1st Afghan evacuees after deadly Kabul blasts

TIRANA, Abania (AP) — Albania on Friday housed its first group of Afghan evacuees who made it out of their country despite days of chaos near the Kabul airport, including an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

A government statement said an Egyptian Almasria Universal Airlines plane landed at the Tirana international airport at 3:20 a.m. (01:20 GMT) carrying 121 people, including 11 children. It was not clear whether this was the first flight after the two suicide bombings in Kabul that killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 American troops.

“It was the fear from such attacks which pushed us our utmost that these citizens come soonest to Albania, where they are away from danger and fear for their lives,” Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka said. She and U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim were at the airport to greet the evacuees.

A government source said the flight from Kabul was organized by a U.S. non-governmental association and there was a stopover in Tbilisi, Georgia before landing in Tirana.

After the plane landed in Tirana, the passengers were supplied with facemasks and had their information processed in a military tent before they were taken on buses to hotels in the nearby western port city of Durres. The Albanian government will supply them with food, transportation, security and other necessities, according to the foreign minister.

Prime Minister Edi Rama visited some of the evacuees at the Golem coastal resort, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital Tirana. A handout video from his office showed an unnamed Afghan woman telling him that she felt as if she had come from “hell to paradise.”

The government plans to allow the evacuees to stay in Albania for at least a year before they move to the United States for final settlement.

Albania may temporarily house up to 4,000 Afghans, people who would be at risk in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Xhacka said they include “pedagogues, artists, intellectuals, activists of the civil society, human rights organizations or those of women.”

Kim praised the Albanian government for agreeing to host evacuees.

“As they have always done, the people of Albania are once again providing hospitality & protection to those in greatest need,” the U.S. ambassador tweeted. “We are proud to call you a friend & ally. Thank you.”

Albania’s foreign ministry said that two more planes bringing evacuated Afghans are expected in Albania late Friday.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini

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