Fact check: Image claiming to show refugees leaving Afghanistan is from 2018

·4 min read

The claim: An image shows refugees from Afghanistan flying to the US

After the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan and Kabul fell to Taliban militants for the first time in two decades, misleading images and videos claiming to show current events started circulating online.

At Kabul’s international airport, military flights have been evacuating men, women and children attempting to flee the Taliban. Videos went viral of people rushing the tarmac, climbing up the stairs to board packed planes and clinging to a moving U.S. aircraft, resulting in at least seven deaths.

In the wake of this chaotic scene, some people online shared a photo of a plane full of men and claimed it showed a flight coming to the U.S. from Afghanistan.

"This is what’s coming over from Afghanistan," one Facebook page captioned the image on Aug. 16. "WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN & CHILDREN?"

The same photo has been shared by other Facebook accounts with similar captions that claim it was taken recently in Afghanistan. An Aug. 17 post accumulated more than 500 shares and 1,000 reactions before the account corrected the image's misleading caption.

On Twitter, one user shared the image and wrote, “I literally don’t see ONE woman or child?!?!!” The photo has also spread to online forums and websites such as Trending Politics and the Federal Inquirer.

While the photo shows migrants from Afghanistan, it wasn’t taken recently, as many of the posts claim. It shows refugees being returned to Afghanistan from Turkey in 2018.

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USA TODAY reached out to Facebook pages that shared the post for comment.

Photo is years old

A reverse Google image search shows the photo first appeared online in April 2018 articles from Anadolu Agency, a state-run Turkish outlet.

“Some 324 Afghan refugees, who had entered Turkish territory illegally, were turned over to the Provincial Directorate of Immigration in Erzurum,” the photo’s caption reads, according to Google Translate.

Anadolu reported Turkey had sent back thousands of Afghan refugees via chartered flights.

Another April 2018 report from CNN Turk includes a photo of men boarding a plane and states that migrants from Afghanistan had entered Turkey illegally through Iran. At the time of the article’s publication, the number of Afghans sent back to Kabul from Turkey had reached 6,846.

A wave of Afghan immigration to Iran started after Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979, according to the Global Center for Security Studies. Since early 2018, thousands have immigrated to Turkey through Iran due to security and economic problems as well as ongoing violence and insecurity in Afghanistan.

A photo provided courtesy of Defense One shows the inside of Reach 871, a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane flown from Kabul to Qatar on Aug. 15, 2021. A defense official told Defense One that approximately 640 Afghan civilians were on board the flight.
A photo provided courtesy of Defense One shows the inside of Reach 871, a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane flown from Kabul to Qatar on Aug. 15, 2021. A defense official told Defense One that approximately 640 Afghan civilians were on board the flight.

The posts circulating online also misleadingly suggest that only men were being evacuated from Kabul. U.S. Central Command told the Guardian that women and children were also among those who were on a U.S. military cargo plane that carried 640 people// out of Kabul.

However, there was a relative lack of women and children aboard the plane, which may be due to fears of the Taliban. Some Afghans told USA TODAY women are staying in their houses because they are afraid of what could happen to them under the strict rules they face under the Taliban.

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Photos of refugees inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane evacuating Afghans from Kabul to Qatar were shared by Defense One.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that an image shows Afghan refugees flying to the U.S. The photo shows Afghan migrants on a charter flight in 2018 leaving Turkey and returning to Afghanistan. Women and children were also aboard a U.S. military plane that transported refugees out of Kabul.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Photo of plane full of Afghan men shared is from 2018