Mayhew to Hazara employees: You're on your own
On Friday, September 30th, a suicide bomb ripped through a crowded school hall in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of Kabul, a section of Afghanistan's capital city that is home to many members of the country's Hazara community. At least thirty five people died in the attack. Most of them were Hazara women between the ages of 18 and 24 who'd been preparing for an exam.
The Hazara are an ethnic minority who have long been targeted for persecution by the Taliban. The Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood has been a particularly bloody target, with CBS News reporting that the Taliban and ISIS have claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks in the area, including a bombing last year that claimed the lives of 85 Hazara--again, predominantly female students--and an attack on a maternity ward that killed 25 people, including new mothers.
The Taliban's targeting of Hazara might be news to folks in the west, where the longstanding genocide against this group of people does not regularly make the news. But the Taliban's brutal history of oppression and violence against women ought not be a surprise to anyone at this point.
Also on September 30th, as the Hazara community of Afghanistan was reeling in shock from the devastation of this latest attack, the British charity organization Mayhew finally broke its silence on the welfare of a group of former employees and their families, many of whom are female, and many Hazara, who have been abandoned by their would-be rescuers and are in dire need of lifesaving support.
If you've been following along, you'll already know that in November of 2021, a British animal rights activist by the name of Dominic Dyer teamed up with a veterinarian named Tanya Crawley and an "evacuation specialist" named Moti Kahana to smuggle 92 former Mayhew staffers and their families, as well as some family pets, out of Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Among the staffers were a large number of Hazara, and approximately two-thirds of the group were women or children.
Dyer and Crawley called their mission "Operation Magic Carpet" and in the press coverage that ensued, explained that the goal was to house the evacuees in Pakistan until arrangements could be made to move them safely to permanent new lives in western countries, such as the United Kingdom or Canada.
This part is important, because Dyer, Crawley, and Kahana made the decision to move these people and their families without passports, paperwork, visas, or Pakistan entry stamps, rendering the evacuees completely helpless upon arrival in Pakistan. Unable to travel or work to sustain themselves, the evacuees were left completely at the mercy of Dyer and Crawley.
In August, that mercy disappeared. In a brief, perfunctory Zoom call, Dyer and Crawley informed the refugee families that they would be ending support as of September 30th, and that every family would be on its own from then on.
Due to the valiant work of Meredith Festa at Long Island animal rescue Paws Unite People, and Gregory Butcher at World Trade Center Gibraltar (which involved itself in Operation Magic Carpet to--successfully--get its own employees out of Afghanistan to Europe, and then continued to fund OMC as Dyer and Crawley lost interest), the 59 remaining evacuees will remain safely housed in Pakistan until October 15th. But after that, they are truly on their own.
According to Festa, the cost of obtaining proper paperwork for the 59 refugees abandoned by Operation Magic Carpet could total more than $175,000. That does not include the cost of housing or feeding the refugees, whose number includes one sick, premature infant whose parents are unable to access proper healthcare.
Dyer and Crawley have remained silent to the plight of the people who entrusted their lives to Operation Magic Carpet. Dyer, in particular, has opted to bury his head in the sand, blocking anyone on social media who dares to ask about the refugees he abandoned, as if by framing himself the victim of a bullying campaign it will erase the fact that his actions have put 59 lives in extreme danger.
None of this is news if you've been following along. But many who've become invested in the failure of Dominic Dyer and Tanya Crawley's Operation Magic Carpet have wondered why the organization that employed the refugees, respected animal welfare charity Mayhew, hasn't stepped up to help.
After all, when animal rescuer and founder of the charity Nowzad Pen Farthing's Kabul-based staff were faced with the same threat to their lives following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the former Royal Marine moved heaven and earth to get his people evacuated to the UK, and was successful in doing so. Farthing was even able to arrange English lessons and vocational training.
Wither Mayhew, one was left to wonder?
And on September 30th, the same day as the Taliban murdered more Hazara women, Mayhew broke its silence.
Here is the statement in full:
We at Mayhew appreciate and share concerns raised about a group of former Mayhew Afghanistan employees and their families, as well as several animals, who we understand to be currently located in Pakistan.
Back in August 2021, following the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, we suspended our programmes in the country for approximately two months to best protect the safety of our staff and to allow us to monitor a new and rapidly developing political situation. All of Mayhew Afghanistan staff continued to be paid their salaries during this time and were supported in line with our duties as an employer.
Once it was safe to resume our programmes in Kabul, around late September 2021, we committed to do so, but we understood that some staff felt compelled to resign their posts and leave our employment – and to leave Afghanistan.
We had no involvement in their plans to leave the country and Mayhew has no connection whatsoever to Dominic Dyer or Operation Magic Carpet.
We have provided details of an advice line for Afghan refugees currently in Pakistan, and we continue to provide references for our former colleagues when requested to aid their search for employment.
In Afghanistan, we have recruited and trained a new team of vets and support staff to replace those who chose to leave, as we had a duty to continue delivering our life-saving work. Should any of our former employees return to Afghanistan and we have vacant positions at that time, we will of course consider them.
As an animal welfare charity, we rely on the generosity of our supporters to carry out our vital work to support dogs and cats who need us. We do not have any activity or operational involvement in Pakistan. As such Mayhew is limited both financially and practically in the extent to which we can further provide assistance to this group of our former employees.
Let's unpack this statement.
1. Once it was safe to resume our programmes in Kabul, around late September 2021, we committed to do so, but we understood that some staff felt compelled to resign their posts and leave our employment – and to leave Afghanistan.
Here is why one former Mayhew employee says she "felt compelled to resign her post and leave Afghanistan."
"The Taliban eliminated women's 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."
Of course, being Hazara, this employee was not only a target because of her gender.
"ISIS and the Taliban always targeted anything that belongs to us like our educational centers, schools, colleges, universities, sport places, mosques, etc.," she writes. "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."
But that's not all. Simply working with a foreign organization like Mayhew put a third target on this former employee's back.
"It is beyond doubt that the Taliban seek people who have worked for foreign NGOs," she writes. "They accuse them of being spies, helping foreigners in the invasion of the country."
Put plain, this woman and her colleagues were targets of the Taliban in part because they worked for Mayhew. But Mayhew's public stance is apparently that it was her decision to leave Afghanistan and none of Mayhew's business.
2. We had no involvement in their plans to leave the country and Mayhew has no connection whatsoever to Dominic Dyer or Operation Magic Carpet.
According to evacuees I've spoken to who have requested anonymity, the impetus for Operation Magic Carpet came because Mayhew was failing to protect a staff who felt increasingly desperate to escape a mounting threat of violence.
None of these people would have chosen to have been smuggled without paperwork or any means of supporting themselves had their employer recognized its moral responsibility to help them.
This doesn't make Dominic Dyer and Tanya Crawley any less guilty of abandoning the evacuees. But this whole mess could certainly have been avoided had Mayhew followed Pen Farthing's lead and acted decisively to remove its employees from danger.
3. We have provided details of an advice line for Afghan refugees currently in Pakistan, and we continue to provide references for our former colleagues when requested to aid their search for employment.
Mayhew's former employees are currently begging strangers on Twitter to help save their lives. Does Mayhew truly believe that sharing a telephone number is doing their people any good?
Few, if any, of Mayhew's former employees in Pakistan are legally able to work or travel. Not even the most glowing reference in the world will help these people right now.
4. In Afghanistan, we have recruited and trained a new team of vets and support staff to replace those who chose to leave, as we had a duty to continue delivering our life-saving work. Should any of our former employees return to Afghanistan and we have vacant positions at that time, we will of course consider them.
This part of the statement, to me, is absolutely insane.
Remember that this statement was delivered on September 30th, as Hazara women were victimized by yet another targeted attack by the Taliban.
Also remember that the Taliban is reportedly aware of the Operation Magic Carpet refugees and has promised reprisals against any evacuees who return to Afghanistan.
It is not safe for former Mayhew employees to return to Afghanistan to work under any circumstances.
Also, note the qualifier. "Should any of our former employees return to Afghanistan and we have vacant positions at that time, we will of course consider them."
Translation: "If our staff chose to risk their lives to return to Kabul, we can't even promise them a job."
5. Mayhew is limited both financially and practically in the extent to which we can further provide assistance to this group of our former employees.
Gail Parry is one of the many unsung heroes pushing for support for the ex-Mayhew refugees. On Twitter, she points out that as of 12/21, Mayhew's free reserves totalled £1,725,181.
In addition, the organization boasts over 30,000 Twitter followers, and until April of 2022, counted the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, as a patron.
This is an organization that could do more to help its former employees, whether by contributing financially to their aid, or by publicizing their desperate circumstances, or both.
It has chosen not to.
It's easy for Mayhew to point to Dominic Dyer and Tanya Crawley's disastrous human trafficking operation as a way for the organization to wash its hands of any moral obligation to its staff.
But the truth is that Mayhew's staff were pushed toward Operation Magic Carpet when their employer left them exposed to persecution and violence, while others like Pen Farthing were getting his employees out.
Far from absolving Mayhew of any responsibility for the lives of 59 refugees and their animals, this statement only exposes how tone-deaf and callous the organization is toward the people who risked their lives under their banner.
If I were a Mayhew donor, I would be asking serious questions of Sherine Wheeler, Mayhew's new CEO.
And if I were a Mayhew employee, I would be asking my employer how I could trust that they have my best interests at heart, when they could barely lift a finger to save the lives of my colleagues.