In little over a month since the US military withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken control of major cities and installed itself in the presidential palace in Kabul. After almost two decades of war in the country, on 15 August 2021, the Taliban toppled the government, driving thousands of innocent people into a desperate race to escape the country.
The US has since announced plans to evacuate an initial group of approximately 2,500 Afghans from the rapidly deteriorating situation, but at least 20,000 Afghans had applied for the special visa as of mid-July, according to the White House. Many of these applicants have been stuck in bureaucratic limbo since, waiting for visa approval and stymied by unclear or nonexistent communication from US officials. Those who have been lucky enough to receive visas face other significant hurdles, from the danger of travelling long distances across the country to reach Kabul airport to being asked to pay for their plane tickets in cash.
While public outrage may not be enough to pressure the Biden administration to expedite evacuations for those in the immigrant visa programme, it could alternatively force the administration to consider accepting as many refugees as possible. This would also include those who didn’t aid the US military but still fear punishment or death for various reasons, perhaps because they support a democratically-elected government, are a girl or woman who’s sought employment or education, or identify as LGBTQIA+.
However, it’s clear that until further action is taken by the US (as well as the international community as a whole) many innocent Afghan civilians will suffer under the Taliban’s new rule—in particular, women and children. It’s easy to feel helpless about the situation. While lobbying elected officials can help address the plight of Afghan refugees, here are some other ways you can aid them right now.
This one is simple but often gets forgotten. Few of us are actually experts in Afghanistan or Middle Eastern politics. Don’t take up unneeded digital space. Share the voices and knowledge of the people who know what they are talking about rather than your own.
There are a number of nonprofit organisations out there, like Miles4Migrants, which uses cash, vouchers and air mile donations to help transport people out of areas impacted by conflict or persecution safely. Miles4Migrants takes the donations it collects and works with other nonprofit and government agencies to help those vulnerable individuals get a flight to safety.
The organisation recently tweeted that it was running out of cash and airline points donations to meet the overwhelming need coming from thousands of Afghan refugees. Donate if you can.
Truth and transparency are needed now more than ever when it comes to the reporting of the unfolding events in the region. Not only to support Afghan journalists and their voices, but so that this history is documented for years to come. Consider supporting Rukhsana Media, a journalist group staffed by women who are doing some amazing reporting right now.
Mai El-Sadany, a human rights lawyer, tweeted a thread explaining how you can participate locally in helping Afghan refugees resettle in the West. As managing director as well as legal and judicial director for the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), she pointed towards initiatives in Canada and the US working to provide refugees with essentials needed to resettle into the community, from basic goods to housing. If you want to donate goods for Afghan refugees in your local community, try finding and using local and regional Facebook groups.
This is a constantly evolving situation—as more becomes clear over the following days and weeks, there will undoubtedly be alternative ways you can help popping up. In a whitewash of information, be aware of misinformation that is already starting to circulate. Along with these four things you can do right now, it’s also crucial to stay informed.
President Joe Biden’s decision to completely withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in May 2021 has been met with international criticism as the Taliban’s swift offensive takeover of the country comes right after. At the time, Biden stated that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” Those closest to the conflict have long criticised the President’s stance on the US’ longest conflict, indicating that it would ruin 20 years of work and would bring about a humanitarian catastrophe.
In just little more than a month, Biden has been embarrassingly—and rather concerningly—proven wrong as the Taliban swiftly swept across the nation, overtaking the country’s capital, Kabul. This simultaneous takeover and criticised abandonment has resulted in a fearfully-dark future for Afghan women.
The Taliban has always been a threat to the lives of women in Afghanistan. Now that very same threat has hit an all-time high as the extremist organisation overtook its capital unopposed and seized the presidential palace. Malala Yousafzai—Nobel Prize laureate and activist—took to Twitter and wrote, “We watch in complete shock as [the] Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates.” She continued by stating that “global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians.”
International help, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be on the way—with many criticising the US military withdrawal—and neither will it be coming from its own government after new reports surfaced that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban entered Kabul. The women of Afghanistan have reported that they feel abandoned by the world of democracy that they once felt a part of. Women’s rights activist and member of the delegation which aimed to negotiate peace with the extremist group before the US’ withdrawal, Fawzi Koofi, told NBC News that Afghan women felt “betrayed” and now fear a “dark” future.
She added that “women in Afghanistan are the most at danger or most at-risk population of the country.” The Taliban’s recruitment of freed prisoners (to gain numbers in its ranks) poses a dangerous threat of individuals “who [have been] upset with women becoming powerful in the last 20 years.”
Suhail Shaheen—a spokesperson for the Taliban—told BBC News, “We will respect the rights of women… our policy is that women will have access to education and work, [and will be allowed] to wear the hijab.” This statement conflicts both with the threat to women that the extremist group has historically posed as well as the current endangerment and abuse Afghan women and girls are suffering at this very moment.
This statement simply doesn’t seem to hold, given the reports of female Afghan journalists’ on the local scenes. With their names changed—to protect their identities—a couple of journalists spoke to The Guardian about what they had seen and heard. ‘Aaisha’ reported that the female journalists’ coverage of the takeover over the last few weeks had led to an influx of death threats from the Taliban as well as others who do not believe women to be equal. Another journalist called ‘Ferebya’ reported to The Guardian that there have been many stories of women and girls being forcibly taken, beaten and sexually assaulted. Stating her fear for her own safety, she said, “Firstly I am worried about myself because I am a girl, and also a woman journalist.” Adding that “in provinces they took some girls for themselves and used them as slaves.”
This comes after findings from The Wall Street Journal that the Taliban is reportedly requesting girls over the age of 15 and widows under 40 to be married to its fighters. Experts analysing the situation have noted that this demand is even more extreme than that of the regime of the 1990s. It continues the pattern of enforced marriage and sexual slavery from extremists in Syria and Iraq. Reuters also reported in the newly-taken over Taliban regions to have seen public floggings of women who are also forced to stay at home—unable to leave unless with a male companion.
With the usual bustling streets of Kabul now empty and images of women depicted in advertisements being painted over with rollers and buckets of white paint, the freedoms fought for over the past 20 years are now quickly unravelling. Afghan women’s rights activist Koofi also spoke to Reuters on the future of women in the country. “Women are still doing their best. You have seen from across Afghanistan, every woman is in the media. They are trying to talk about what’s happening to them, their communities. We have always been optimistic. We will continue with our struggle. But it’s becoming more and more difficult for women’s rights defenders.”