How Mexico Helped The Times Get Its Journalists Out of Afghanistan

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A group of Afghans working for The New York Times with their families landed safely early Wednesday at Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport, not in New York or Washington.

The arrival of 24 families was the last stop of a war. sad escape from Kabul. And Mexico’s role in rescuing journalists from The Times, and if all goes as planned, The Wall Street Journal offers a confusing look at the state of the American government as two of the nation’s most powerful news outlets frantically seek help from Washington.

Unlike their counterparts in the United States, Mexican authorities were able to quickly provide documents allowing Afghans to fly from Kabul’s embattled airport to Doha, Qatar, eliminating the bureaucracy of immigration systems. The documents promised Afghans would receive temporary humanitarian protection in Mexico as they explored more options in the US or elsewhere.

“We are currently committed to a foreign policy that promotes freedom of expression, liberties and feminist values,” Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said in a phone call. Referring to a national tradition of welcoming everyone from 19th-century Cuban independence leader José Martí to German Jews and South Americans fleeing coups, he said Mexico opened its doors to Afghan journalists “to protect them and be consistent with this policy.” ”

“We didn’t have time to have the normal official channels,” Mr. Ebrard added, explaining the country’s fast-paced work.

The route of Afghan journalists and their families to Mexico was as arbitrary, personal and uncertain as anything in the frenzied and messy evacuation of Kabul. Mr. Ebrard was at home around 5 pm on 12 August when he received a message on WhatsApp from Azam Ahmed, a former chief of The Times’ Kabul and Mexico offices, who was on book leave.

“Is the Mexican government willing to take in refugees from Afghanistan?” He asked Mr. Ahmed, who maintains a cordial relationship with Ebrard, despite his occasional harsh criticism of the Mexican government’s reporting. “We have people over there, good people trying to get out.”

Mr. Ebrard immediately said that this would not be possible. He then said that he was considering whether his department would be able to get through what would typically be “hours and hours” and a cabinet meeting. “So I called the president and explained the situation,” he said.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged in an interview this week that “the situation is moving very quickly and the decision must be taken at the same pace.”

“We did not look at this demand as a foreign policy between Mexico and the United States,” he said. “Instead, it’s a shared position between me, who was a New York Times reporter in Kabul a few years ago, and me, who is in a position to make some decisions.”

Mr. Ebrard wrote a letter to Mr. Ahmed at around 6:30 p.m., saying he was ready to help by reassuring a charter airline or other government that Mexico would accept an Afghan listing.

But as the Taliban approached Kabul, the situation changed. The commercial airport was closed and for a time only American military flights would take off. Qatar, where US jets landed, would only accept Afghans if officials there were confident they would go to a third country.

Many of the details of the Afghans’ crossing are kept secret by news outlets, partly for fear of filling narrow escape channels. The Times did not support his deal with Mexico. After it was reached, Mexico extended its invitation to The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Matt Murray, editor-in-chief of The Journal, said the paper plans to send its team, now based in Qatar and Ukraine, to Mexico. A spokesperson for The Post declined to comment on its plans.

As the United States accelerated evacuation flights, the politicized and bureaucratic American immigration system struggled to meet the crisis. Most of the special visas the United States grants journalists require them to spend at least a year in a third country, presumably to satisfy the warning forces that Muslim immigrants can be terrorists working under extremely deep cover.

That’s why governments around the world step in, just as many Syrian journalists did when they fled that country’s war to find homes in Europe. Many also went to Turkey, where they tried to provide lifelines to Afghan journalists. A senior editor of the Times said that Uzbekistan also accepts refugees and presents itself as a short-term target for Times journalists.

Qatar, which maintains its ties with the Taliban and hosts peace talks, played a central role. The Kabul ambassador reportedly led convoys to safety, and the first wave of evacuees – including journalists – split in two in Doha. British soldiers He also played a role in the eviction of journalists, The Journal reported.

Mexico’s help in rescuing its US allies runs counter to the country’s usual image of America’s divisive immigration policy, but Mr. Ebrard refused to dwell on the irony. “Perhaps society in the United States is not aware of the Mexican tradition of refugees,” he said softly.

He added that he could not blame America’s withdrawal from Kabul. “It is not easy to organize the evacuation of thousands of people in a short time when withdrawing from a country,” he said.

Ebrard added that the Mexican government is now trying to provide similar protections to other journalists and women in distress in Afghanistan.

“We are deeply grateful for the help and generosity of the Mexican government,” AG Sulzberger, publisher of The Times, said in an email. “Their assistance has been invaluable in saving our Afghan colleagues and their families from danger. We urge the entire international community to follow this example and continue to work on behalf of the many brave Afghan journalists who are still at risk.”

A US official said many Afghan journalists were unable to enter the airport, including most of the staff of the US government-run Voice of America and Radio Azadi.

Sulzberger stated that the aid would not affect The Times’ Mexican news, describing it as a humanitarian issue and adding that “everyone who helps us understands that our news is completely and completely independent.”

Mr. Ebrard is often mentioned as an important figure in Mexican politics, a former mayor of Mexico City and a possible successor to President Obrador. He is also known for lighter contact with the press than the president, who often denounces news outlets (including The Times) at long press conferences. But the foreign minister said he did not expect any favors from the newsrooms Mexico helped.

“I think these newspapers have different positions on the government, it’s very critical and I suspect that won’t change,” he said.

The Mexican government is trying to stem a wave of immigrants from Central America, and I asked how it could be justified to accept Afghans while they pressure Nicaraguans to stay at home. Ebrard said the government’s actions were consistent with Mexico’s effort to “clear the difference between economic migrants and people seeking asylum and asylum.”

Mr Ebrard said he didn’t expect much internal criticism as he moved quickly to admit Afghans. “People in Mexico are very sympathetic to refugees in Afghanistan right now,” he said. He said he would be at the airport Wednesday morning to personally meet the Afghans and say “Welcome to Mexico”.

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