How Mexico Helped The Times Get Its Journalists Out of Afghanistan

A gaggle of Afghans who labored for The New York Times, together with their households, touched down safely early Wednesday — not in New York or Washington, however at Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City.

The arrival of the 24 households was the most recent cease in a harrowing escape from Kabul. And Mexico’s function within the rescue of journalists from The Times and, if all goes as deliberate, The Wall Street Journal presents a disorienting glimpse of the state of the American authorities as two of the nation’s strongest information organizations frantically sought assist removed from Washington.

Mexican officers, in contrast to their counterparts within the United States, have been in a position to reduce via the purple tape of their immigration system to shortly present paperwork that, in flip, allowed the Afghans to fly from Kabul’s embattled airport to Doha, Qatar. The paperwork promised that the Afghans would obtain non permanent humanitarian safety in Mexico whereas they explored additional choices within the United States or elsewhere.

“We are right now committed to a foreign policy promoting free expression, liberties and feminist values,” the Mexican overseas minister, Marcelo Ebrard, mentioned in a phone interview. Citing a nationwide custom of welcoming everybody from the 19th-century Cuban independence chief José Martí to German Jews and South Americans fleeing coups, he mentioned Mexico had opened its doorways to the Afghan journalists “in order to protect them and to be consistent with this policy.”

Mr. Ebrard added, explaining the nation’s swift work, “We didn’t have time in order to have the normal official channels.”

The path of the Afghan journalists and their households to Mexico was as arbitrary, private and tenuous as anything within the frantic and scattershot evacuation of Kabul. Mr. Ebrard was at house round 5 p.m. on Aug. 12, when he acquired a message on WhatsApp from Azam Ahmed, a former chief of The Times’s Kabul and Mexico bureaus, who’s on ebook depart.

“Is the government of Mexico willing to receive refugees from Afghanistan?” requested Mr. Ahmed, who maintained a cordial relationship with Mr. Ebrard regardless of often heated Mexican authorities criticism of his protection. “We have people there, good people, who are trying to get out.”

Mr. Ebrard shortly responded that it wouldn’t be doable. Then, he mentioned, he thought of whether or not his division may circumvent what would usually be “hours and hours” of course of and a cupboard assembly. “And so I called the president and explained the situation,” he mentioned.

Mexico’s overseas minister, Marcelo Ebrard, final week. He “was in the position to make some decisions,” he mentioned.Credit…Sashenka Gutierrez/EPA, through Shutterstock

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador agreed that “the situation was moving very fast, and the decision should be taken at the same speed,” Mr. Ebrard mentioned in an interview this week.

“We looked at this request not as foreign policy between Mexico and the U.S.,” he continued. “Instead, it’s a common position between someone who was a New York Times reporter in Kabul several years ago and myself, who was in the position to make some decisions.”

Mr. Ebrard wrote again to Mr. Ahmed round 6:30 p.m. to say Mexico was prepared to assist by offering assurances — to a constitution airline, or one other authorities — that it could settle for an inventory of Afghans.

As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, nonetheless, the scenario modified. The business airport shut down, and for a time solely American army flights would depart. Qatar, the place the U.S. jets landed, would often settle for Afghans provided that officers there may very well be assured that they might transfer on to a 3rd nation.

Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan ›

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Updated Aug. 25, 2021, 7:07 a.m. ETFive members of the Afghan robotics staff arrive in Mexico.Uganda turns into the primary African nation to host Afghan evacuees after the Taliban’s takeover.A gaggle of Afghans who labored for The New York Times lands safely in Mexico.

Many of the main points of the Afghans’ passage are being stored confidential by information organizations, partially for concern of flooding the slim channels of escape. The Times didn’t promote its association with Mexico. After it was reached, Mexico prolonged its invitation to The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The editor in chief of The Journal, Matt Murray, mentioned the paper deliberate to ship its staff, now in Qatar and Ukraine, on to Mexico. A spokeswoman for The Post declined to touch upon its plans.

While the United States has ramped up its evacuation flights, the politicized and bureaucratic American immigration system has struggled to fulfill the disaster. Many of the particular visas that the United States has issued to journalists require them to spend at the least a 12 months in a 3rd nation, presumably to fulfill the forces warning that Muslim immigrants could also be terrorists working underneath extraordinarily deep cowl.

So governments all over the world are stepping in, as they did when Syrian journalists fled that nation’s battle — most of them to search out properties in Europe. Many others went to Turkey, which has additionally scrambled to offer lifelines to Afghan journalists. Uzbekistan, too, has accepted refugees and provided itself as a short-term vacation spot for Times journalists, a senior Times editor mentioned.

Qatar, which maintained ties to the Taliban and hosted peace talks, has performed the central function. Its ambassador to Kabul has reportedly led convoys to security, and the primary wave of evacuees — together with the journalists — bivouacked in Doha. British troopers additionally performed a job in evacuating journalists, The Journal reported.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Here’s extra on their origin story and their document as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the highest leaders of the Taliban, males who’ve spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is understood about them or how they plan to control, together with whether or not they are going to be as tolerant as they declare to be.

How did the Taliban acquire management? See how the Taliban retook energy in Afghanistan in a couple of months, and examine how their technique enabled them to take action.

What occurs to the ladies of Afghanistan? The final time the Taliban have been in energy, they barred ladies and women from taking most jobs or going to highschool. Afghan ladies have made many features for the reason that Taliban have been toppled, however now they concern that floor could also be misplaced. Taliban officers are attempting to reassure ladies that issues might be totally different, however there are indicators that, at the least in some areas, they’ve begun to reimpose the previous order.

What does their victory imply for terrorist teams? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years in the past in response to terrorism, and plenty of fear that Al Qaeda and different radical teams will once more discover protected haven there.

Mexico’s assist in rescuing U.S. allies cuts in opposition to the same old picture of the nation in America’s divisive immigration politics, however Mr. Ebrard declined to dwell on the irony. “Maybe society in the United States is not aware of the Mexican tradition in terms of refugees,” he mentioned mildly.

The overseas minister added that he couldn’t fault the American withdrawal from Kabul. “It’s not easy to organize the evacuation of thousands of people in a short period of time when you are withdrawing from some country,” he mentioned.

The Mexican authorities is now trying to prolong related protections to different journalists and to ladies who’re at risk in Afghanistan, Mr. Ebrard added.

“We are deeply grateful for the help and generosity of the government of Mexico,” A. G. Sulzberger, the writer of The Times, mentioned in an e mail. “Their assistance has been invaluable in getting our Afghan colleagues and their families out of harm’s way. We urge the whole international community to follow this example and continue working on behalf of the many brave Afghan journalists who are still at risk.”

Many Afghan journalists stay unable to get into the airport — together with most of the workers of the U.S.-government operated Voice of America and Radio Azadi, a U.S. official mentioned.

Mr. Sulzberger mentioned the help wouldn’t have an effect on The Times’s protection of Mexico, describing it as a humanitarian matter and noting that “everyone who has assisted us understands that our coverage is totally and completely independent.”

Mr. Ebrard is a big determine in Mexican politics, a former Mexico City mayor who is usually talked about as a doable successor to President Obrador. He’s additionally identified for a lighter contact with the press than the president, who typically castigates information organizations (together with The Times) at prolonged information conferences. But the overseas minister mentioned he didn’t anticipate any favors from the newsrooms that Mexico had helped.

“I think that those newspapers have different positions about the government, very critical ones, and I suspect this will not change,” he mentioned.

The Mexican authorities is attempting to stem a tide of migrants from Central America, and I requested the way it may justify admitting Afghans whereas urgent Nicaraguans to remain house. Mr. Ebrard mentioned the federal government’s actions have been in line with the Mexican push “to make clear the difference between economic migrants and the people who are looking for refuge and asylum,” he mentioned.

Mr. Ebrard mentioned he didn’t anticipate a lot home criticism for shifting quick to just accept Afghans. “The people in Mexico are very sympathetic with refugees right now in Afghanistan,” he mentioned. And he mentioned he’d be on the airport Wednesday morning to fulfill the Afghans himself and to say, “Welcome to Mexico.”