Abandoned

"These days thousands of women and girls like me are crying silently and furiously on

their pillows, not because they are weak but because of their efforts, their fatigue and their unfulfilled pastimes, which they endured to study and have a better future but one night all their efforts we are ruined and now they are doomed to stay at home.


"In particular, I've spent all my life in war, bomb blasts, killing- this is all I've seen. I want you to help me and my family to continue our live safely without fear and continue our lessons and work. If you can do anything to help me and my family, please do it."


Shortly after my last post about the efforts to help the former shelter staff of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue escape persecution and death at the hands of the Taliban, I received an email from a woman I'll call Raksha.


Raksha is not a member of the group of 169 former veterinarians, staff, and family members that Long Island, New York's Paws Unite People is working to bring to safety. She's a former veterinary surgeon who worked with Mayhew International, a British charity for whom Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was until earlier this year a patron.


Raksha was one of thirteen veterinarians evacuated from Afghanistan to Pakistan in November, 2021, as part of a widely-heralded program called "Operation Magic Carpet," which was spearheaded by a British veterinarian and an animal welfare campaigner named Dominic Dyer.


The program managed to evacuate a total of 92 people--veterinary staff and their families, including thirty women and thirty-two children--to temporary sanctuary in Pakistan while they awaited safe passage to new lives in western countries.


You can read a lot about Operation Magic Carpet and its success online. And it was without doubt a monumental and heroic operation. But that's not why Raksha reached out to me.


"Two months after the Taliban took power we left our house according to what our rescuers told us." she writes. "It was a British-led operation called Operation Magic Carpet and we did everything they told us. 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."


Raksha's story jives with similar reports I've heard about the collapse of Operation Magic Carpet, suddenly and without warning, earlier this summer.


None of the principals involved in the mission have made any public acknowledgment of its failure online, but the story behind the scenes is the same: ninety-two refugees stranded in Pakistan, stripped of all funding and support with alarmingly short notice. Left to work out for themselves how to survive in a dangerous, unfamiliar landscape, every family for itself.

"We were lulled into a false sense of security all this ten-month period because we thought [Operation Magic Carpet] would help us reach a safe country and start a new life," Raksha writes. "We had faith in them and chose to trust them, but they abandoned us in danger. Our photos are on social media and everybody including Taliban have become aware of our being here."


Desperate, Raskha has reached out to me for help saving her family's life. As refugees in Pakistan, she and her family members are unable to work to sustain themselves, or pursue an education. They cannot remain in Pakistan, and for myriad reasons, they can't go back to Afghanistan.


The Taliban have made life hell for women, Raksha writes. "The Taliban eliminated our access to education, gave us rudimentary access to health care, do not let us work, force us to marry Taliban members. We were imprisoned in our own houses since we could not freely get out of our home. Once I decided to join a protest and raise my voice, but I ended up being badly beaten by the Taliban.


"They do not allow me to work as a vet since they hate girls and pets. We women worked so hard for the past 20 years to gain freedom and power within society. Everything we worked for is taken away from us."


Moreover, like many of the former staff members of the Kabul animal rescue, Raksha and her family are Hazara, an ethnic minority long subject to unspeakable persecution.


"ISIS and the Taliban always targeted anything that belongs to us like our educational centers, schools, colleges, universities, sport places, mosques, etc," says Raksha. "Additionally, even before the collapse of our previous government, they slaughtered Hazaras and Shias in provinces in which mostly Hazaras and Shias reside.


"At the moment, ISIS and other terroristic groups are planning to attack specifically on Shias. Many of my relatives like my uncle was killed in an attack planned by the Taliban. We are only being killed because of the fact that we are Hazaras and Shias."


Finally, Raksha believes that she and her family--who include veterinarians, doctors, and other professionals, as well as students--will be targeted for their work with various western NGOs, and for studying abroad.


"It is beyond doubt that the Taliban seek people who have worked for foreign NGOs and people who have studied abroad," she says. "They accuse them of being spies, helping foreigners in the invasion of the country. My sisters who studied at university and school now also fear that they can no longer study. Because it is clear that their future is bleak and uncertain. They have completely lost their confidence and motivation to live and study since they are not given any opportunity."


Raksha and her family joined the other Operation Magic Carpet evacuees in escaping persecution, torture, and death in Afghanistan. They followed their rescuers to Pakistan, believing their journeys would continue to safety in other countries, where they could build new lives--work, study, practice religion unthreatened. Where, as women, they could be free again.


Instead, they find themselves in a sort of friendless limbo, cut loose by the rescuers who brought them to Pakistan, and grasping desperately for any path forward.


"Please, please if there is a possibility that you can get us out of this tough situation, you will save our lives," Raksha writes. "What I am asking you is that you please try to get us to a safe third country if possible."


As I mentioned earlier, I haven't found any sort of public statement online from the organizers of Operation Magic Carpet as to these new developments. I have heard corroborating reports from folks active in humanitarian work with Afghan refugees that these 92 people do indeed seem to have been abandoned in Pakistan. I know that other humanitarian organizations are scrambling to pick up the slack and find space for these folks in their own evacuation efforts.


And I know, from speaking to Raksha, that these folks are desperate.


Humanitarian work and refugee evacuations are not my area of expertise. I landed here because I wanted to help the former staff of the shelter in Kabul, who'd risked their lives for the animals I was working with, and who I felt deserved as much compassion and attention as the 285 dogs and cats they sent us.


What I have learned very quickly is that there are always more people needing help than there are people able or willing to help them. I live in a city with an incredibly wealthy population, and it's impossible not to feel angry when I see a Ferrari drive by on the street, knowing the good that money could do for human beings and animals both, around the world and here at home in Canada.


I don't know how to help Raksha. I hope that by sharing her story, I'll find someone who can do more for her. I hope that the organizers of Operation Magic Carpet will publicly acknowledge what has happened to their mission, that it's apparently been abandoned before these 92 people are safe.


I hope that the Duchess of Sussex is made aware that Raksha and her family aren't out of the woods yet, and that some of the efforts of Operation Magic Carpet's organizers may have in fact put her in more danger than she might have been, and that there is a moral imperative to finish this job and get these folks to real safety.


And I hope that more people listen to these stories. That more news agencies want to cover them. That the world doesn't forget about Afghanistan--or the rest of the world's most vulnerable--just because the news cycle moves on to something newer, bloodier, sexier.


I'm so frustrated that I can't do more to help Raksha. That I can't wave a magic wand and bring her, and her family, and the rest of the Magic Carpet evacuees, and the former shelter staff from Kabul, all out of danger and to somewhere they can live the peaceful lives we all deserve.


What frustrates me more is knowing that we, as a society, could actually be helping people like Raksha in a meaningful way. And for some reason, we're just not doing it.