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Ohisalo: Afghan evacuation flight lands in Helsinki

The latest arrivals include a group of Afghan citizens employed by the Finnish embassy in Kabul, along with their families.

File photo of Interior Minister and Green Party leader Maria Ohisalo. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Green) said 102 evacuees from the Afghan capital of Kabul arrived in Finland on Monday morning.

Finnish authorities arranged the flight from the Georgian capital Tbilisi to Helsinki, Ohisalo said, as part of an EU-coordinated evacuation operation from Afghanistan. Finland has also offered other EU countries the opportunity to use Finnish flights to evacuate their own citizens.

The group includes Finnish citizens or permanent residents of Finland as well as Afghans who have recently been employed by the Finnish state, along with their families.

The Finnish government has committed to evacuating a total of 170 Afghan citizens, and Ohisalo said that about half of this number had arrived in Finland as of Monday morning.

However, she told the Monday afternoon press conference that it was difficult to say how likely it was that the remainder of people in this quota would be brought to Finland.

"The news today [from Kabul] has been very worrying, that there have even been firefights on the ground. Under these circumstances, the Finnish authorities are working to bring people to safety," Ohisalo said, referring to reports from German army officials of an exchange of fire between unidentified gunmen and security forces at an entrance to Kabul airport on Monday morning.

Finnish Embassy guards not on evacuation list

According to Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto, Finland is not planning to evacuate individuals who worked as "subcontractors' subcontractors," which in practice means that the evacuation list does not include the local security guards who worked at the Finnish Embassy in Kabul.

"In this situation, we have not considered the possibility of including subcontractors' subcontractors to the evacuation list," Haavisto said.

The minister also said that Finland has become aware that some individuals who are looking to flee Afghanistan were applying for protection from Pakistan or Iran, but noted that those people would not be evacuated to Finland.

Evacuated workers not treated as asylum seekers

The Afghan citizens that have arrived in Finland will be accommodated in reception centres across the country until their residence permits are issued, which the Finnish Immigration Service Migri are ready to process as a matter of urgency on humanitarian grounds.

The permits will initially be valid for a period of four years.

Ohisalo said the government's decision to evacuate the workers was based on the exceptional situation in Afghanistan.

"Those people, who have worked for and helped the Finnish state, are now being helped by us," the minister said, adding that discussions about the impact of the situation in Afghanistan on immigration will continue at the EU level this week.

Ohisalo added that the coordination of support measures and solidarity with Afghanistan's neighbours will be essential.

This week's All Points North podcast discussed the situation in Kabul and its impact on Finnish policy.

You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or on your usual podcast player using the RSS feed (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

This story was edited at 17:11 on 23 August 2021 to add information about the security guards who worked at the Finnish Embassy in Kabul not being included on Finland's evacuation list. It was also amended at 18:57 to correctly quote Minister Haavisto's characterisation of the embassy's security guards as "subcontractors' subcontractors."