US picks Qatar as transit hub for Afghan refugees
The Gulf nation of Qatar has agreed to represent the United States in Taliban-run Afghanistan following the closure of the American Embassy in Kabul and withdrawal of all US forces from the country in late August.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, announced Friday that Qatar will serve as the US "protecting power" in Afghanistan.
The announcement is a clear indication the Biden administration doesn't intend to re-open the embassy anytime soon after bringing America's longest-running war to an end after 20 years.
Blinken, meanwhile, said the US has offered the opportunity to leave Afghanistan to all American citizens it has identified as remaining in the country who wish to depart and have appropriate travel documents.
He and al-Thani also signed an agreement formalising Qatar's role as a main transit hub for evacuees.
Several hundred Americans are reported to still be in Afghanistan, though not all have indicated they want to leave, Biden administration officials have said.
According to al-Thani, Friday's agreement formalising Qatar as the main transit hub for those fleeing Afghanistan is intended to regularise the standards for the arrival and processing of evacuees as they make their way to other destinations.
"It's very important for us to do the proper vetting and security processing in order to ensure that we don't end up with the wrong people in our countries," al-Thani told The Associated Press in an interview at the Qatari ambassador's residence.
"That's why it became like a prerequisite to have documents that prove the people who are who are traveling, and I believe this is a basic requirement not only for us as the state of Qatar, but also for the hosting country ultimately," he added.
Qatar has been a key player in discussions between the Taliban and the United States for many years. It hosted months of US-Taliban peace talks and has since been critical to the evacuation of American citizens and others from Afghanistan.
Roughly half the people who have left the country have transited through Qatar.
But some humanitarian groups have complained that stringent entry requirements in transit countries like Qatar put the most at-risk Afghans in further peril as they are unable to get proper travel documentation from Taliban authorities.
"Our worry that if there are no serious steps taken from now and making sure that address those issues address, especially, the economic issue that might lead us to a worse situation. And this might be in in a form of refugees crisis in a form of social unrest internally, which can escalate over time," al-Thani said.
"The US is very much engaged in that front, and they understand the consequences of of ignoring the situation in Afghanistan. And honestly, in our meeting today, it was very constructive discussion with Secretary Blinken about that issue," al-Thani added.