Photo Credit: Boaz Arad / IsraAID
On board the evacuation flight from Afghanistan, via a neighboring country, and then to Albania, Oct. 2, 2021

Earlier this month, 125 vulnerable Afghans arrived in Albania after they were evacuated to a neighboring country.

Judges, cyclists, journalists, TV presenters, human rights activists, family members of Afghan diplomats, artists, law enforcement officers, scientists and more were rescued through a weeks-long collaborative humanitarian effort from governments, aid organizations, activists, and donors – including those from Israel.

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The complex operation on October 2 was initiated and led by activists and facilitated by the Israeli NGO IsraAID.

It is the second evacuation from Afghanistan coordinated by the Israeli humanitarian aid organization; the first involved the rescue of 42 vulnerable women, girls and family members, who arrived in the United Arab Emirates on September 6.

Those who were evacuated are considered particularly vulnerable under Taliban rule.

Many of the women and girls among them have served as symbols of female empowerment and leadership. After escaping Afghanistan, they were granted safe passage through a neighboring country to the UAE and Albania, before long-term resettlement in countries including Canada, France, and Switzerland.

IsraAID also launched an initial needs assessment mission to Albania, where the group of 125 evacuees joined more than 1,000 Afghan refugees currently in the country. The Israeli team will assess access to crucial services and plan to provide ongoing assistance to Afghan refugees while they stay in Albania.

After an intense and difficult process over the past several weeks, with the situation constantly changing and new plans being built on an almost-daily basis, we are delighted to be able to say that our main focus right now is on ensuring the evacuees have everything they need while they begin the process of building new lives for themselves,” said IsraAID CEO Yotam Polizer. “We are committed to supporting both of these groups for the long-term.

“We would like to thank the governments of Albania and the United Arab Emirates for their hospitality and willingness to provide safe passage to these vulnerable people out of Afghanistan, and to the governments worldwide who have prioritized them for resettlement,” he said.

“We would also like to thank a number of parties who have been crucial to this effort, including the group of strong women activists from around the world led by journalist Danna Harman, who initiated this operation, international NGO Team Humanity, Sylvan Adams, an anonymous family foundation, Aaron G. Frenkel, Chairman of the Euro Asian Jewish Congress, Alexander Mashkevich, Honarary President of the Euro Asian Jewish Congress, CIJA – the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Union Cycliste Internationale President David Lappartient, and Len Blavatnik. Their generosity, networks, and commitment to ensuring these brave Afghan leaders have the bright future they deserve, have made this possible,” Polizer added.

“What we did in this operation to extract and resettle these Afghan women was simply practicing the ancient Jewish cultural imperative of ‘Tikkun Olam’, which means improving our world,” said philanthropist Sylvia Adams. “I am gratified to have helped change the fate of our group of Afghan women cyclists, and to offer them a chance at a normal, productive, happy life.”

Danna Harman, who initiated the operation, gathered a group of friends who became activists, working together to rescue these vulnerable women and girls.

“If there is a bright spot in the story of Afghanistan’s latest crisis, it would be how many regular people, Afghans and those who care about Afghanistan alike, came together to respond to calls for help,” Harman commented.

“None of us know what life in Afghanistan will look like now, and it is not for us to judge who is in graver or lesser danger. But I believe it behooves us all to listen to and respect anyone’s cry for help, and, moreover, if we can, reach out our hands to assist.

“I would like to thank my girlfriends who dropped everything and jumped on board this journey, especially Charlene Seidle and Roni Aboulafia, and to thank the women and girls themselves, who got everything started, and are the biggest heroes of it all,” Harman said.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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