JINCHEON, Sept. 10 (Korea Bizwire) — Hundreds of Afghan evacuee families under South Korean protection on Friday got a chance to enjoy the outdoors and fresh air for the first time since their arrival here, following the end of a mandatory self-isolation protocol against COVID-19.
Last month, the Seoul government evacuated 390 Afghan co-workers and their family members under a military mission, codenamed Operation Miracle, as they faced possible Taliban threats for having supported foreign operations.
The group is staying at the National Human Resources Development Institute in the nation’s central county of Jincheon.
The mandatory two-week quarantine against the coronavirus for 370 people who arrived on Aug. 26 ended on Thursday, while that of 13 people who arrived a day later was lifted Friday.
Seven people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being treated at two separate external medical centers.
For the first time since their arrival, the evacuees were allowed to go outside and roam freely across the institute’s sports field for about an hour Friday afternoon.
To maintain social distancing, they were divided up into groups of 50 to 70 and took turns enjoying the sun and fresh air.
The Afghans, comprising over 70 families, were seen busy catching up with one another, as they were isolated in family units at the compound for the past two weeks. About half, or some 180, of the total evacuees are under the age of 10, including 100 infants.
Young mothers were spotted enjoying walks while holding their babies, while the sights and sounds of children playing football injected a sense of bright energy at the facility that had otherwise been filled with the heavy air of grief since the group’s arrival.
Some 10 police officers were on site to protect the group.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum visited the institute to check on the evacuees’ living conditions. He asked for the evacuees’ understanding in regulating visitations and outdoor activities, saying that it is inevitable in ensuring their safety.
“As people who have arrived at a foreign country after crossing a life-or-death situation, the evacuees need to regain their mental stability,” Kim said.
He also noted that unregulated external contact could not only raise safety issues for the evacuees but also their families back in Afghanistan, saying that identity disclosures could lead to retaliations against loved ones back at home.
The group will remain in Jincheon for an additional six weeks and receive education on the Korean culture, and then be relocated to another place in late October.
“We need to discuss more with the justice ministry,” Kim said when asked where the group will later be moved.