A Chorus of Cries for Help
"I don't know why Dominic did this, he abandoned us in a very bad situation. We are not even able to leave the guest house because we are illegal and police are searching for illegal people to take and deport us. Please try your best to find a quick way to make us legal here. We really need your help. Please help us."
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Raksha (not her real name), an Afghan refugee and former veterinarian who worked with Mayhew International—a charity for which the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, was a patron—before being evacuated from Afghanistan in late 2021 with her family as part of a widely-publicized mission called Operation Magic Carpet.
According to online sources, the operation was spearheaded by a British veterinarian, and an animal rights activist named Dominic Dyer, with much of the funding coming from the World Trade Center Gibraltar and its owner, Greg Butcher. It resulted in 92 refugees being transported to Pakistan, including thirty women and thirty-two children.
Reports vary, but approximately 78 people of the original 92 remain in "temporary" housing circumstances in Pakistan. And while World Trade Center Gibraltar has continued to support the remaining refugees financially, my post about Raksha has prompted numerous other members of the “Kabul 92” to reach out, every one of them convinced they’ve been abandoned by Operation Magic Carpet and will be left to fend for themselves as of the end of September.
“We did everything they told us,” Raksha wrote. “They put our pictures on social media and after ten months of waiting they abandoned us. They arranged a zoom meeting in which they told us that their efforts came in failure and that they are unable to help us get out of Pakistan. Those who supported us financially have also gave us a limited amount of time. Every family should find a way on their own.”
Another veterinarian, with five years of experience working with Mayhew International, has a similar story: “As you may know, Dominic and his rescue team brought us to Pakistan last year, and [recently] in twenty seconds via a Zoom meeting, told us, sorry, we are not able to get you out of Pakistan.
“It was really shocking when they said we are not able to get you out. Even our wives and children cried that day.”
A third member of the evacuated contingent, an accomplished veterinarian whose life in Afghanistan was endangered by his work with American and British NGOs, writes: “Now Operation Magic Carpet is closing and they leave us alone in Pakistan. I’m jobless and suffering from a bad economic situation here. Kindly, can anyone help me to find a job anywhere in the world?”
A fourth veterinarian, evacuated to Pakistan with his wife and young family, reports that the Taliban have sent threatening messages and even searched his home in Kabul: “The Taliban wanted my family members who still live in my home to give them my new address. My family had to tell them that I had escaped from Afghanistan.”
However, he writes, “[In early August] we received word that Operation Magic Carpet’s sponsors closed the project, and said they will only support our food and accommodation expenses until the end of September, 2022. I am hoping someone can help me.”
My initial post relating Raksha’s story seems to have caused some backchannel handwringing among some of the principals involved in Operation Magic Carpet, as well as some backlash from a few of Dominic Dyer’s fans online.
Despite significant flattering media coverage of OMC in the aftermath of the initial evacuation last year, however, neither Dyer nor any of the other people involved in the operation appear to have given any public update as to the status of the mission since. I haven’t been able to find any acknowledgment that the imminent end of OMC leaves dozens of individuals in a very sticky situation.
The crux of the issue seems to be the way in which Dyer and OMC evacuated the veterinarians and their families from Afghanistan. As per Dyer (Jerusalem Post):
“These people moved, to a large degree, without the legitimate paperwork. We didn’t have an opportunity to wait on passports in Kabul. Some of the people were at high risk because they had worked in the military and security areas, so they were potentially being hunted down by the Taliban regime. The women and children we just needed to get out anyway, in a rapidly deteriorating situation.
“This is the nature of this business. There is no certainty on anything. Costs are what they are. And bribes have to be paid. This whole thing is not legit. We just needed to get them out.”
While the decision to move people out of Afghanistan without necessary paperwork was undoubtedly a necessary and lifesaving measure, the apparent decision by Operation Magic Carpet to end support for the refugees before they’ve all been moved out of Pakistan leaves a significant number of them in very dangerous limbo.
Numerous refugees I’ve been in contact with report that they don’t have the necessary passports, visas, or Pakistani entry stamps required to travel, work, or even leave their housing without risk of being picked up by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, and deported.
“Someone should at least ask [them] why they brought so many people illegally?” one of the refugees writes. “Our main concern is now that we are illegal—even not able to go outside, get an English language course, searching for a job to work in our field, or do shopping.”
According to Meredith Festa of Paws Unite People, which has been besieged by requests for help after the Operation Magic Carpet Zoom announcement, “There are eighteen families who have asked us for help. Of those eighteen, only four families all have the correct ID. The other fourteen have people with no ID at all, or no passports.”
Further, according to Festa, only one of the families has received registration from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, a crucial safeguard for displaced persons, while many of the rest are still mired in the interview process.
“We are waiting to receive a call from UNHCR,” one of the veterinarians writes. “Obviously, Pakistan's government does not accept refugees and therefore it is a bit of an uphill to gain UNHCR'S status.”
I’ve heard a number of (unofficial) defenses for Operation Magic Carpet’s apparent removal of support for the 78 persons who entrusted them with their lives.
One such argument is that the 78 remaining refugees have been left to their own devices because they were denied entry visas into the United Kingdom. This is false, according to the veterinarians.
“The main people of operation never gave us details about how they are trying to get us to Britain or other safe countries,” one writes. “All we know is that they just tried to contact Victoria Atkins who is responsible for Afghan evacuation process and also they may have contacted many MPs.
“They wanted to make the British government agree with our asylums by spreading our news, photos in social media. But the results was weak and not satisfying. They never applied for any kind of visas for us and our visas were never rejected.”
Another veterinarian concurs: “[OMC] didn’t tell us that the UK denied our visas. The OMC aim was not only the UK; they said we are working to get you to any safe country, not only the UK. I believe if they were working hard, we were eligible to go the UK, as the Nowzad former staff are in the UK now.”
Another defense I’ve heard is that Operation Magic Carpet did not promise, or even offer, to move these refugees to safe countries, and that the goal of the operation was solely to get these people to Pakistan. This doesn’t jive with much of the OMC’s public statements made during the evacuation.
From the Operation Magic Carpet GoFundMe page: “Now safer in Pakistan, the 92 people and their companion animals will be securely accommodated in Islamabad, while plans are made for moving them to a permanent home in Britain, Canada, or other nations around the world.”
From Greg Butcher of World Trade Center Gibraltar (December, 2021): “On the arrival of the 92 in Pakistan, it’s been hard thinking what might have happened to them had we all not intervened. Their new lives and future are filled with uncertainty, and now we need to urgently get these brave now-stateless English-speaking people into a refugee resettlement program.”
From a January 2022 profile of the British veterinarian who, with Dominic Dyer, spearheaded Operation Magic Carpet: “As well as the UK, 'Anne' [not her real name] has been in contact with various other countries to help the group – including Germany, Italy, Portugal, Canada and several other Commonwealth nations.
"The refugees are currently in the process of meeting with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to have their refugee status officially recognised. Once this process has been completed in the next few weeks [emphasis mine], the next hurdle will be to secure entry for the group into either the UK, or one of the other countries Anne and her small team are in contact with.”
From a February 2022 article about the evacuation in the Jerusalem Post, which featured many photographs of the refugees’ faces: “The next step is to get the escapees to a new home, in a new country. They are safe, for now, but there is still some way to go before they can start to rebuild their lives.”
It seems clear that the goal of all parties involved in Operation Magic Carpet, at least initially, was not to simply leave these refugees to fend for themselves in Pakistan. And that even if there is no legal obligation to help the refugees move further, there certainly seems to be a moral one.
According to my sources, it’s also clear that the World Trade Center Gibraltar involvement has been far and beyond what anyone expected.
“At first when we were evacuated from Afghanistan, we were about 92 people,” Raksha writes. “There was about 11 people related to World Trade Center. After getting here in Islamabad they flew to France in the first month. WTC had no relation to Operation Magic Carpet and us, but they got involved and supported us financially. If it was not for their support, we could not make it till now. Still they are paying all our expenses here. We are thankful to them.
“Also, after the main people of Operation Magic Carpet left us, it was also WTC people who still stayed behind with us. It is all because of their humanitarian support and their amazing help that we resisted here in Islamabad.”
As best as I can tell, World Trade Center Gibraltar has been left to carry the weight of supporting the remaining refugees in Pakistan. But WTC’s finances are not infinite, and the task of obtaining proper paperwork and Pakistani visas for the many members of the “Kabul 92” who need them is estimated to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Privately, WTCG has been in contact with other organizations, including Paws Unite People and the World Hazara Council, to take over support of the refugees. As I’ve written earlier, Paws Unite People is already nearly bankrupting itself trying to care for a group of 170 former veterinarians and their families from the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, who themselves are facing terrible persecution and hardship.
For Dominic Dyer's part, he hasn’t made any public statements that I could find about Operation Magic Carpet, or the fate of the 78 remaining refugees. If he’s made any appeals for assistance or more funds, I haven’t seen them.
This isn’t meant to be a hit piece on anyone. I have no agenda for writing this beyond trying to help the 78 people still on the ground in Pakistan find safety somewhere.
It’s up for debate whether Operation Magic Carpet succeeded in its mission by simply smuggling 92 people out of Afghanistan; or whether the remaining refugees have a valid claim to feeling abandoned after the Zoom meeting that apparently left dozens of them marooned in Pakistan without even the proper paperwork to leave their temporary homes, much less find permanence somewhere.
What is clear is that nobody involved with this mission should be satisfied that numerous refugees are so scared for their lives, and feel so alone, that they are reaching out to a nobody animal rescuer in Canada in hopes that I can help save their lives.
Whatever the plan was, it certainly wasn’t this.