Western groups desperate to save Afghan workers left behind

By The Associated Press

Milan: Pangea, an Italian charity, has helped tens of thousands of Afghan women become self-supporting over the past 20 years. Now, dozens of its workers are hiding with their families in Afghanistan amid reports that the Taliban are going door-to-door in search of civilians working with Western countries.

Pangea founder Luca Lo Presti has asked 30 Afghan charity workers and their families to be included in Italian flights that this week brought 500 people to a safer location, but requests were apparently denied. On Thursday the military coordinator told him: “Not today.”

Since the Taliban captured the capital of Kabul, dozens of flights have already brought hundreds of Western civilians and Afghan workers to Europe safely. Those lucky enough to be rescued from fearful retaliation are mostly Afghans who have served directly with their families on foreign missions.

European countries have also promised to evacuate people at particular risk from the Taliban – feminists, political activists and journalists – but it is unclear where the line is being drawn and how many Afghan citizens will be able to evacuate Westerners.

Pangea’s staff in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly fierce. Lou Presti says they are at particular risk for their role in creating the kind of freedom for women that is contrary to Taliban principles.

“Pangaea is an enemy because whoever creates awareness and authority is the enemy. Now we have to hide,” said Lou Presti from his base in Milan. Pangea helped 70,000 women to open their own businesses Provided loans – hair and beauty salons and bakeries – and many of them support families with at least eight to 10 children.

The Italian Foreign Ministry called the arrival of activist Zahra Ahmadi and women researchers from the Veronese Foundation on Thursday’s flight carrying 202 Afghan nationals, “paying special attention to those who worked for Italy and those who are in danger, such as that women and young people.”

Yet untold numbers still remain vulnerable to those who worked with aid groups and other non-governmental organizations in the budding democracy. This includes those who assisted US and NATO forces and are now being trapped and hunted by the Taliban. Many people are deleting contact with West from their phones, or are missing important numbers to keep in touch.

An Italian-Afghan doctor working for Italy’s development agency broke down after arriving on an evacuation flight and made a harsh assessment of the West’s decision to leave the country.

“We need to save those people in Kabul. We dropped them in Kabul,” Dr. Arif Oryakhail told reporters, his voice breaking. “They cooperated with us, we trained them as obstetricians, nurses, doctors. They were working and now They have been released, our hospitals have been abandoned.”

A German network has closed its safe houses to Afghan civilians working with coalition forces, calling them a “death trap”.

“The Taliban are going door-to-door in search of local forces,” said Markus Grotian, an active German soldier running the network. “It was near, and one of the safe houses has already been visited by the Taliban. Thank god it was empty.

He is making 400-500 calls a day to help ex-workers who are stranded and feel helpless. The Afghans who were instrumental in aiding NATO deployments are now “throwing away their documents, and trying to get in,” he said. “We don’t know how to help them anymore.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged not to leave Afghans working for the country, from translators to kitchen workers as well as workers. More than 300 people have been evacuated, and Macron’s office says charities are looking to add more to the list.

More than 130 Czech civilians and Afghans were evacuated on Monday and Tuesday, and Hungary has launched an evacuation mission for its civilians as well as some Afghans who helped its military.

Lou Presti is calling for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate Afghans working with the West. They have so far been stopped from traveling to Kabul to help identify Pangea activists and their families amid the chaos. A family who ignored his advice and went to the airport lost their children in confusion and are unable to locate them, he said.

He acknowledged concerns in the West about “jihadist groups being brought to the West and passing themselves on to refugees”, making it all the more necessary that members of his organization pledge to those working with him in Kabul. Do it.

But he is also aware of the risks to those left behind.

Lou Presti said, “Every night brings panic, because roundups like the Nazi regime are real, and without the possibility of rescue and not knowing the future and imaging that it might be death, the fear of being taken and arrested.” Is.” It’s scaring us, and here we are. Imagine the women who are living it. “

A former British Marine, Paul Farthing, is campaigning to help 25 Afghans who work for the Nauzad Animal Sanctuary in Kabul and their families to settle in Britain. Among them is a 20-year-old female surgeon who fears the end of her career and forced marriage with Taliban fighters.

“We gave them hopes, aspirations, dreams for the future,” Farthing said. “Thousands of people have now taken their lives away from him.”

The concern is not just individuals, but also the credibility of Western democratic values ​​over the past two decades as well as humanitarian organizations that recruit and rely on local workers in other threatened areas.

Grotian says Afghanistan’s withdrawal has exposed that “there is no concept of standing with the people when things go bad.”

The YAAR Association for the Afghan Diaspora in Germany is being disrupted by calls from Afghans desperate to get out. Others, frustrated, are removing cellphone contacts altogether so they don’t leave a digital trace.

YAAR chief Kava Spartak said any failure to evacuate the Afghans would have long-term consequences.

“It is a kind of end game for morale and European morality. If they now leave behind Afghans, especially those Afghans who worked with NATO troops and international organizations that fought for democracy for 20 years Having worked with, I think there would not be much left for European values ​​now, ”said Spartak.

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