A group of 41 Afghan women — including a prominent singer, members of the Afghan girls’ cycling team, three members of the girls’ robotics team, a number of at-risk human rights activists — and their families, have fled Taliban rule in Afghanistan earlier this month in a daring rescue mission initiated and coordinated by the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID and other Jewish groups.
The mission was conducted in cooperation with the Centre For Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian entrepreneur Sylvan Adams. Adams is a Montreal-born philanthropist who now lives in Israel. He is the founder of the Israeli national cycling team, Israel Start-Up Nation. The rescue operation was also led by Aaron G. Frenkel, an aviation professional, who has helped airlift thousands of Jews out of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Frenkel teamed up with Adams and Alexander Machkevich to help extract the passengers, according to details of the operation that were summarized at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in early September. Frenkel is Chairman of the Board of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and Machkevich is Honorary President.
Yotam Polizer, CEO of IsraAID, detailed the difficult efforts to gather passengers for evacuation without arousing suspicion from the Taliban.
“The issue was they had to collect them from hiding,” Mr Polizer said. “[The rescuers] had to do rounds around the city in alleys to pick up these people and try not to create any suspicious movement,” he told UK’s Telegraph. ”
“The stressful part really was around the border, there were a lot of Taliban in the area, they were not allowed to leave the shelter and we were very stressed that someone might find them,” he added.
The group cleared checkpoints during the daring mission, but were temporarily stuck at the Tajikistan border, spending two days in a nearby safe house while they awaited permission to cross. The team eventually received permission from the president of Tajikistan and Israeli aid workers met the girls in the capital of Dushanbe. From there, they were escorted onto a jet chartered by Adams and arrived in the UAE on September 6, according to reports.
IsraAID also accompanied the evacuees from Kabul to Tajikistan and onward to the United Arab Emirates where they were welcomed and hosted at the Emirates Humanitarian Cit located in Abu Dhabi, according to a statement from UAE news agency WAM. The group received a range of high-quality housing, sanitation, health, and food services to ensure their welfare, the news agency said.
“The UAE is deeply honored to work alongside its partners in the international community to assist the Afghan people on humanitarian grounds. Recognizing the importance of aiding women, girls, and families in particular, the UAE is sparing no effort to ensure that those in need may reach safety in pursuit of a better future,” said Salem Mohammed Al Zaabi, director of the International Security Cooperation Department at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
“Drawing upon our enduring humanitarian commitment and values of cooperation and partnership, the UAE will continue to identify ways to assist Afghan nationals by welcoming them into the country until they depart for their final destinations,” Al Zaabi added.
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Goverment officials from several countries from Tajikstan, the UAE, and eventually Canada came together with IsrAID and other Jewish groups to make this rescues mission possible. Adams also helped lobby the Tajik government to support the rescue.
“When some worrying events occur in the world, such as a situation in Afghanistan today, we, as the Jewish people, have no right to stand aside, and if it is within our power to provide assistance to the victims, we feel our duty to come to the rescue. We are very glad that 40 people today regained their hope for a new life,” said EAJC Board Chairman Aaron G. Frenkel.
The Centre For Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in Canada also played a supportive role in evacuating the asylum seekers and finding them a place to settle in the country. “WE worked behind the scenes to help @IsraAID evacuate them,” CIJA tweeted.
“We must acknowledge that none of these efforts would have happened without the leadership of former #Montrela community leader, philanthropist, and Israeli resident Sylvan Adams,” the tweet continued. “In the meantime, CIJA is continuing to work with @IsraAID to facilitate the evacuation of other vulnerable women who face potential retribution by the Taliban.”
David Cooper, vice president of governmental relations for CIJA told The Canadian Jewish News that Tajikistan and the UAE had agreed to admit the group of 41 refugees temporarily, but only if a a third country would guarantee to take them permanently.
“It was very perilous. The situation at the border was very tense,” he said. “The girls and women spent a few nights in safe houses just outside the Tajikistan border waiting to get these Canadian assurances, which ultimately came and they were able to exit out of Afghanistan into Tajikistan and ultimately to the UAE, where they are now awaiting processing by the Canadian government.”
Prime Minister Trudeau has promised to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees. The office of immigration minister Marco Mendicino has said that some 3,000 Afghan refugees had arrived in Canada by September 3rd and more were on their way.
“The Government of Canada continues to use all avenues available to help Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families, and vulnerable Afghans eligible under the special immigration measures, to leave Afghanistan and come to Canada. We thank neighbouring countries for their support in welcoming refugees and we continue to have daily discussions with allies and countries in the region to help get as many people to safety as possible,” a statement from the office said.
While Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has considered offering the Biden adminstration Israel’s assistance in transporting Afghan refugees from US base to a third country of resettlement, sources told The Times of Israel that Israel was not offering to resettle any refugees on Israeli soil.
The situation in Afghanistan has become dangerous for Afghan women, particularly female athletes, artists, and those who take part in the sciences. This is not the first mission to rescue members of Afghanistan’s robotics team. Nine other members of the team were recently evacuated to Qatar. Members of the women’s football team have also fled to Australia.