Evacuation of Refugees from Afghanistan: Health Control at the Spanish Border in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Mar 28;20(7):5292. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20075292.


Following the announcement of the retreat of troops from Afghanistan, the Spanish Government organised the so-called "Antigone Operation" for the evacuation of Afghan collaborators. The most relevant ministries were involved in the response. The Ministry of Health, through the Foreign Health Department, performed the health control on arrival. The whole operation was conducted at an air base. It included the health control of refugees composed of temperature measurement, a basic visual control and a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rapid antigen test for those over 12 years of age; the assessment of their basic needs (food and hygiene); identification and security procedures; and the initial administrative processing. The refugees were accommodated in a temporary facility at the base, where they waited to be transferred to their final destinations. Between 19 and 27 August 2021, 2168 refugees arrived on 17 flights; 680 of them were children under 12 years of age. One thousand four hundred and ninety-nine rapid antigen tests were performed, with one positive result. "Antigone Operation" is unprecedented in Spain and is one of the most complex operations carried out in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic required the establishment of a health control system on arrival, performed by Foreign Health, which contributed significantly to the overall success of the operation.

Keywords: Afghanistan; COVID-19; evacuation; health control; point of entry; public health emergency.

MeSH terms

  • Afghanistan / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Refugees*
  • Spain / epidemiology

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.