- A group of U.S. citizens and residents were evacuated from Kabul earlier this week.
- But Homeland Security initially denied them access, leaving them stranded in Abu Dhabi for 33 hours.
- An activist who helped organize the flight said they had some food and slept at the airport.
More than 100 U.S. evacuees from Kabul, Afghanistan, were left with some food, slept on the floor and shared a single toilet, after Homeland Security denied them access to the United States for about 33 hours, an activist who helped organize the flight told Insider.
The evacuation flight, organized by civilian rescue group Project Dynamo, arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport on Tuesday afternoon with 23 U.S. citizens, 83 green cardholders and six special immigration visa holders, the group said.
They were supposed to continue flying to New York on a separate flight, but were blocked from entering all U.S. ports by the Department of Homeland Security, which cited a lengthy screening process and an outbreak of measles as a cause for concern. , the group said.
Jen Wilson, a volunteer with Project Dynamo, told Insider that the passengers, which included 59 children, were left stranded at a private charter terminal at Abu Dhabi airport while waiting for clearance to fly.
They landed in Abu Dhabi at 4pm on Tuesday and were stranded there until 1am on Thursday when they were finally allowed to fly.
“There was a bathroom each for men and women, no food, no shops, not even a vending machine,” Wilson told Insider. “So they were hungry and cold and had to sleep on the floor.”
“It was heartbreaking. It was annoying,” she added. “Because we had just captured the height after we got them out and rescued them.”
Photos on Project Dynamo’s Instagram account showed children sleeping curled up on airport chairs while adults slept on the floor.
Another photo showed the group’s founder, Bryan Stern, handing out McDonald’s meals.
The State Department has not responded to Insider’s request for comment on this story.
A spokesman for the department acknowledged the situation on Tuesday and told Insider in a statement: “All US-bound flights must follow established safety, security and health protocols before being approved for departure. This process requires that the flight manifest be checked before departure to the United States. to ensure that all passengers are properly screened. “
Wilson said all passengers on board had been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella and tested negative for COVID-19.
The group was finally allowed to fly to the United States on Thursday and landed in Chicago that afternoon.
Despite the setback, Wilson said passengers were just grateful to be free of the Taliban.
“They were trapped at the moment and it sucked, but they were at least safe,” she said.
The United States has evacuated more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan since August 14, the day before the Taliban took control of Kabul, according to Sky News. It is unclear how many have been evacuated since the August 31 military withdrawal deadline.
Project Dynamo’s website says it is “committed to respecting the pledge of civilians in Afghanistan who have helped the United States over the past two decades.”
Two out of the seven people who run the group accompanied evacuees from Kabul, Wilson said, adding that they were mostly funded by donations.
“It’s Americans, how can you stop helping?” she said. “How can you stop trying to get them out?”