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Efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans continue after US troop withdrawal

Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15

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Two men in Kabul in July (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The last American troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan amid continued efforts to evacuate LGBTQ people from the country.

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command told reporters on Monday the last American C-17 left Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital, at 12:29 p.m. PT (11:59 p.m. on Monday in Afghanistan.)

“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001,” said McKenzie.

The previous White House in 2020 brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the withdrawal. President Biden last month announced American military operations in Afghanistan would end on Tuesday.

The Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

McKenzie and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday noted the U.S. evacuated more than 123,000 people — including 6,000 American citizens —  from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country.

“This has been a massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking — one of the most difficult in our nation’s history — and an extraordinary feat of logistics and coordination under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable,” said Blinken in remarks he delivered from the State Department.

Blinken acknowledged “a small number of Americans — under 200 and likely closer to 100 — who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.” Blinken in his remarks did not specifically mention LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country, but he did refer to “at-risk Afghans” when he referenced the Taliban’s commitment “to let anyone with proper documents leave the country in a safe and orderly manner.”

“We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan,” reads a statement the U.S. and more than 100 other countries signed on Sunday. “We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.”

“We will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries,” adds the statement. “We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding.”

Blinken in his remarks noted the U.N. Security Council on Monday “passed a resolution that enshrines that responsibility — laying the groundwork to hold the Taliban accountable if they renege.”

“The international chorus on this is strong, and it will stay strong,” said Blinken. “We will hold the Taliban to their commitment on freedom of movement for foreign nationals, visa holders, at-risk Afghans.”

“We will work to secure their safe passage,” added Blinken.

Taliban ‘will kill us one by one’

The Taliban instituted a strict version of Sharia law in Kabul and the large swaths of Afghanistan it controlled from 1996 to 2001.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, in an op-ed the Los Angeles Blade published earlier this month wrote the Taliban hanged men in soccer fields who had been accused of having same-sex relationships.  

A Taliban judge last month said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. One LGBTQ Afghan who commented under a Facebook post said the Taliban “will kill us one by one, so I have no choice but to escape.”

More than 60 members of Congress last week urged the U.S. to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from their country. Canada thus far is the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

“With the Taliban’s takeover of the country, LGBTQ+ Afghans face the prospect of violent death. Sharia law, cemented in Afghanistan’s constitution, prohibits all forms of same-sex activity, and makes same-sex activity punishable by death,” reads the letter the members of Congress sent to Blinken. “Just as it was for ISIS in Iraq, Sharia law is the Taliban’s guiding compass as it establishes its rule over Afghanistan’s government and society. During its campaign in Iraq and Syria, ISIS frequently executed LGBTQ+ individuals by stoning them to death, castrating and hanging them in public squares, and throwing them off buildings.”

“Under Taliban rule, LGBTQ+ Afghans will suffer a similar fate,” it adds.

Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ issues, urged the U.K. to offer sanctuary to LGBTQ Afghans.

“The safety of LGBT+ people in Afghanistan is now a huge concern and many have not been able to leave,” tweeted Herbert on Aug. 27. “Afghans most in need, including LGBT+ people, will rightly be prioritized and welcomed to the UK under the Resettlement Scheme. We must do everything we can to help them.”

Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that assists LGBTQ refugees around the world, on Monday said it remains in contact with LGBTQ Afghans who hope to leave their country. Stonewall, a British LGBTQ rights group, tweeted it “won’t stop working to get LGBTQ+ Afghans to safety.”

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Southern-Central Asia

Columbia University researcher helps evacuate LGBTQ people from Afghanistan

Taylor Hirschberg working with Belgian lawmaker

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Taylor Hirschberg (Photo courtesy of Taylor Hirschberg)

NEW YORK — Some of the 50 human rights activists that a Columbia University researcher has helped evacuate from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country are LGBTQ.

A press release the Los Angeles Blade received notes Taylor Hirschberg — a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar — has worked with Belgian Sen. Orry Vandewauwer to help 50 Afghan “activists leave the country.”

“The refugees included those who identify as LGBTQI+ or gender non-conforming and their families,” notes the press release.

The Blade has seen the list of names of the more than 100 people that Hirschberg and Vandewauwer are trying to evacuate from Afghanistan. These include the country’s first female police officer, the independent U.N. expert on Afghanistan and a number of LGBTQ activists.

“There are many more human rights advocates we are still trying to get out of the country,” said Hirschberg.

Hirschberg has previously worked in Afghanistan.

He and Vandewauwer were also once affiliated with Skateistan, an NGO that works with children in the Middle East and Africa. The documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” features it.

Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge over the summer said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether the U.S. was able to successfully evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality earlier this month said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sept. 13 during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the Council for Global Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration have called upon the Biden administration to develop a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans that includes prioritizing “the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people.” Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

Hirschberg on Monday told the Blade that he and Vandewauwer have charted an airplane to evacuate Afghans, but they have not secured a “third country” to which they can bring them.

“Currently, we are working towards a multi-country collaboration for resettlement,” he said. “Our work has now expanded to include election officials and women activists, including those from the LGBTQI+ community.”

Hirschberg also urged the U.S. and humanitarian organizations to do more to help evacuate LGBTQ people, human rights activists and others from Afghanistan 

“I understand that this is complicated and that I do not have all the working pieces but why does the United States ignore those who helped in building their agenda in Afghanistan. The same goes for multilateral organizations,” he told the Blade. “Why are neither funding charters and creating agreement with partnering states? If they are why have the not contacted the countries that we are creating collaborations with?” 

Editor’s note: Hirschberg is a Blade contributor.

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Southern-Central Asia

‘I don’t want to die’ in Kabul

Gay person desperate to leave Afghanistan with family

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Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A gay person in Afghanistan says the Taliban will kill them if they and their family don’t leave the country.

“I don’t want to die,” they told the Los Angeles Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from Kabul, the Afghan capital. “I have a lot of dreams in my life.”

The person, 25, said their mother and sister are currently living with a relative after they fled their home when the Taliban came into their neighborhood. The Blade is withholding their name and gender identity in order to protect their identity.

“I’m 100 percent sure that my life is not safe any more … they will definitely kill me,” they said. “Being gay is not a good thing in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, in an op-ed the Blade published last month wrote the Taliban hanged men in soccer fields who had been accused of having same-sex relationships when they controlled the country from 1996-2001. A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

“People were going to work, people were going to school,” said the person when the Blade asked them what Kabul was like before the Taliban regained control. “We were living in freedom. We never thought we would be under pressure.”

“I’m scared,” they added. “I can’t go outside … everything has totally changed. Nobody is happy here.”

They told the Blade that men have repeatedly raped them and threatened to kill them. They said the perpetrators have also told them they would report them to the Taliban.

“They are still doing this because they think we have another pervert,” they told the Blade. “They will kill you. They will cut off your hand, your nose.”

Taliban ‘will definitely kill me’

The U.S. evacuated more than 123,000 people — including upwards of 6,000 American citizens — from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country until American military operations ended on Aug. 30. Dozens of members of Congress have urged the U.S. to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from the country, but it remains unclear how many of them have been able to leave.

Canada thus far is the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans. Immigration Equality, the Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad, ILGA Asia and other groups continue to try to assist LGBTQ people who remain in Afghanistan.

The person with whom the Blade spoke said Immigration Equality has contacted them. They also said they have reached out to American and European politicians, but they said “we can’t help you.”

“I texted everywhere,” they said. “I called everywhere.”

“I’m just trying … to leave as soon as possible Afghanistan because of the situation I’m facing,” they added. “I’m getting death threats from people and now it’s especially hard for me … I’m suffering. My mom is suffering. My sister is suffering.”

They added the current situation in Afghanistan is “very difficult, not just for me, but for everyone who is facing these kinds of issues.”

“I’m 100 percent sure that my life is not safe any more … they will definitely kill me,” they said. “Being gay is not a good thing in Afghanistan.”

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Southern-Central Asia

LGBTQ Afghans seek help from Immigration Equality

Immigration Equality last week said 80 LGBTQ Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan have contacted the organization for assistance.

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Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim)

NEW YORK — Immigration Equality last week said 80 LGBTQ Afghans have requested assistance from the group.

Aaron Morris, executive director of the New York-based group, in a press release noted “our attorneys spoke directly with 50 queer people before the U.S. government left the nation” on Aug. 30.

“We did everything in our power to get as many people out as possible,” said Morris.

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The U.S. evacuated more than 123,000 people — including upwards of 6,000 American citizens — from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country until American military operations ended on Aug. 30.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, in an op-ed the Washington Blade published last month wrote the Taliban when they controlled the country from 1996-2001 hanged men in soccer fields who had been accused of having same-sex relationships. One LGBTQ Afghan who commented under a Facebook post said the Taliban “will kill us one by one, so I have no choice but to escape.”

More than 60 members of Congress have urged the U.S. to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from their country.

Canada thus far is the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans. Immigration Equality, the Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad and ILGA Asia are among the groups that continue to try to assist LGBTQ people who remain in Afghanistan.

“Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan two weeks ago, the reality for Afghan LGBTQ people has become a living nightmare,” said Morris. “The punishment for being gay in Afghanistan again includes public stoning, being crushed by a wall, and other violent horrors. All of the LGBTQ Afghans we have spoken to are begging for someone to save their lives. They are terrified, and they are desperate.”

“Immigration Equality won’t stand for the abhorrent treatment of our Afghan LGBTQ brothers, sisters and non-binary siblings,” added Morris.

“Now that airplanes are no longer taking off, there are still scores of people who need urgent evacuations. And there is still time to save lives,” said Morris. “We must all work together to find safe passage for those in our community who need to leave. Evacuating LGBTQ and other vulnerable populations is a long-term undertaking, and we intend to do our part to get them to safety. We implore the people of America not to forget LGBTQ Afghans. Let us welcome them as refugees and expedite their safe arrival in this country.”

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