Afghanistan Climate Strikers Desperate to Evacuate as Fridays for Future Issues Call for Rescue

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August 31, 2021
4 min read
Primary Author: Mitchell Beer @mitchellbeer via The Energy Mix

Fridays for Future organizers in Canada and around the world say they are mounting a desperate publicity and fundraising effort to help climate strikers in Afghanistan and their immediate families arrange safe passage out of the country.

The Fridays for Future website says about 150 campaigners and close relatives “are stuck in Afghanistan and face persecution under the Taliban,” and are “in urgent need of being evacuated as soon as possible.” A media release yesterday updated that figure, with the group’s Activists in Risk Zones (ARZ) Task Force claiming more than 500 people at risk, including 80 associated with the youth campaign group founded three years ago by Swedish school striker Greta Thunberg.

A Canadian Fridays for Future organizer, Muska, told The Energy Mix the Task Force first formed in May, 2019 after 20 FFF activists were arrested in Iran. It now has about 40 active members located in more than a dozen countries, including a handful in Canada. They’re working through KabulLuftbrücke, a project associated with Germany’s Leave No One Behind movement.

As of Tuesday evening, the Task Force’s crowdfunding site had raised £16,546 from 392 supporters to pay for flights and transportation, visa fees, support, legal fees, and other costs.

At one point, the release said, the Task Force secured spots on an evacuation mission for 14 young activists. Ten of them got through, and were awaiting final transport to Germany, but four were held up at a Taliban checkpoint.

“They are devastated, scared, and exhausted,” the Task Force wrote. “As of now they are back at home and following local advice on how best to stay safe in the meantime. We are heartbroken for them and continue to pursue every possible option to get them out safely.”

Noting that Fridays for Future has no experience with resettlement operations, the ARZ Task Force said it is “trying desperately to connect with designated state officials and other established humanitarian NGOs in the hope that they can take over responsibility for the 500+.”

Muska urged Canadians concerned about the evacuation to lend a hand if they’re connected with an NGO or government department, and to push for urgent government action. “They need to expand and increase refugee allotment programs, support organizations offering support and relief to refugees (and also give that support themselves, especially neighbouring countries), and demand Afghanistan maintain an open-border policy for migrants,” she told The Mix in an email.

Meanwhile, with the federal election campaign in full swing, “Afghan-Canadians are working to make Afghanistan a priority for all candidates,” she added. The Afghan Youth Education and Development Initiative (AYEDI)’s Canadian Campaign for Afghan Peace is circulating an open letter calling for an expanded resettlement program for evacuees, immediate humanitarian assistance, and “proactive diplomacy” to promote human rights in the country.

Alex Neve, a former Amnesty International Canada secretary general now associated with the University of Ottawa, and Afghan-Canadian lawyer Djawid Taheri called for similar measures in a Globe and Mail opinion piece yesterday. After a searing account of Canada’s and other Western nations’ failure to arrange safe passage for those in danger, they urged continuing evacuation measures, a Canadian commitment to resettle 95,000 Afghan refugees, and a financial, political, and diplomatic commitment to respond to a deepening crisis.

“What we need to hear now—from all parties—is what action they will take going forward, nationally and internationally, to mount an effective response to a precipitously deteriorating human rights and humanitarian catastrophe,” they wrote. “To most Canadians, that is not yet clear.”

The Fridays for Future website cites a 24-year-old activist describing a grim situation in Kabul. “I cannot recognize my city anymore,” said the campaigner, whose name was withheld on the site. “No one can work. No one can see friends. All of my favourite places don’t really exist anymore. Me and the other activists feel as though they are being abandoned, even by the organizations they’ve worked closely with over the years.”

“Climate activists in Afghanistan have risked their lives to protect the planet,” said a 17-year-old ARZ Task Force member identified only as Llorenç. “We’re working as fast as possible to ensure their safety and putting pressure on the international community to mobilize all the possible efforts.”

“These incredible human beings have been risking their lives for years to advocate for a liveable planet for our children and the next generations,” added Ali Khademolhosseini, a 19-year-old human rights activist in Germany. “Now their lives are at even greater risk. It’s our duty to do all we can to ensure they are able to find a safe way out of Afghanistan.”

Muska said the Fridays for Future evacuation has received a limited response from the NGO community, with Climate 2025 the only group stepping up as an active supporter. “Some groups, which we know have the ability to help us, simply aren’t doing so,” she wrote. “I am immensely grateful to the groups who have offered funds and support. To the organizations and governments/government officials who haven’t, all we can sense is a lack of reciprocity—seeing that these are the same groups that use FFF and actively reach out to young activists asking for our time and effort when it suits them, only for them to disappear when we ask for their help.”