The Anti-Trafficking Movement Is Pivoting to Afghanistan

American anti-trafficking groups often make impossible-to-verify claims. Now, they’re doing it in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Oct 12 2021, 2:45pm

Dina Francesca Haynes was having a difficult time. A professor at New England Law Boston and an expert in international human rights law and human trafficking, she was trying to get her vulnerable clients out of Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, a chaotic experience unlike anything in her two decades of working in post-conflict zones. One of her clients needed to get out immediately, she said, because she had been violently sexually assaulted. Haynes had been told that a private operator on the ground could bring her client to a safe house and, ultimately, to the Kabul airport.

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When she asked for his help, the man asked her to send a video of the assault.

Haynes was incredulous, but couldn’t stop things then and there. "When you're desperate to help your client, you want to make sure that you're utilizing all possible resources," she said. After her client had been waiting for 12 hours in an insecure location for a car, she pressed the operator. "Is this coming?" she remembered asking him. "You have to tell me now. She has to leave. This is her last chance to leave, if it's not coming." He said he had discovered that there were 22 checkpoints on the way to the airport, and so didn't think it was going to work out.

"I was like, discovered? Anybody who's doing anything in Afghanistan knows exactly where the checkpoints are right now. We all knew that there were 22 checkpoints," said Haynes, whose client made it to safety in the end. "It was just mind-blowing. He was so proud to be able to say, 'Oh, I just discovered there are 22 checkpoints,' days after the rest of us already knew that. And that's when I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm talking to somebody who is playing.' He's playing Rambo. This is a game to him. I've imperiled my client's life on the false promise of somebody who's playing." 

Haynes' story reflects a broader set of issues that developed in Afghanistan amidst and following the shambolic departure of U.S. troops, with the development of a wide ecosystem of private citizens and groups claiming to be facilitating the evacuation of both American and Afghan citizens. This is an exceedingly complex process at best, usually involving high-level negotiations with foreign governments and collaboration with a wide variety of people, some of whom have no motive but profit. And even seemingly well-intentioned actors, both in the U.S. and on the ground, are adding to the confusion and chaos inherent in the situation by making promises they can't fulfill and spreading unfounded rumors.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- AUGUST 31, 2021: Scenes around the abandoned airport area where civilians were processed for evacuations now that the American forces have completed their withdrawal from the country and Taliban fighters moved in to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Many of the people and entities making unsupported—and, in many cases, unverifiable—claims about their work in Afghanistan are raising funds off doing so. Some of these are well-known anti-trafficking organizations, like Glenn Beck's Nazarene Fund, which appears to have at times exaggerated its role in exfiltrating the Afghan girls' national soccer team from the country, according to people who were directly involved.  (Anti-trafficking organizations, many of them QAnon-adjacent, have grown in number and popularity in recent years by making bold, heroic claims of dubious validity about their work rescuing women and girls from sexual slavery.)

In other cases, individuals claim they’ve been able to leverage personal connections to aid in evacuating American and Afghan citizens. In late September, for instance, the Washington Post reported on the case of Tommy Marcus, an Instagram influencer who since August had been exhorting his fans to donate money to help him fund evacuation flights. Marcus managed to raise a staggering $7.2 million. Then, as the Post’s Jon Swaine reported, he apparently struggled to actually evacuate any Afghans outside of funding other groups' efforts, spending some $3 million on flights that were ultimately canceled. 

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There is also a troubling, widening stratum of would-be fixers and self-appointed saviors who are in some cases potentially imperiling the lives of people seeking to flee a war zone, according to people who are working on evacuations. The problem, they say, is getting worse as the Biden administration puts Afghanistan in the rear-view mirror, leaving the issue of getting people to countries where they have settled legal status and support largely to private actors and to government employees working in a quasi-private capacity.

Are you familiar with groups or people working—or claiming to work—to get people out of Afghanistan? We would love to hear from you. Contact the reporters at tim.marchman@vice.com or anna.merlan@vice.com. For extra security, download the Signal app to a non-work device and text us there at 267-713-9832.

"There are like 500 nonprofits raising money but not doing shit," said one person directly involved in exfiltrating refugees. "So many clowns." (More literal estimates from people working on evacuations put the number at between 40 and 100.)

While there is no doubt that some private groups have done effective work, a lack of coordination and oversight by the federal government has made it impossible even for people in government to know which groups are worth their salt.

"I've had a number of experiences in the last month of people who endangered my clients' lives by representing that they could do something for them, having them wait around and then not coming through with anything," said Haynes. "Did they ever have the capacity to do anything? I don't know."

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"I've heard all kinds of talk about black runways, dirt strips in the middle of nowhere," said Nic McKinley, "and quite frankly I think it's all complete bullshit." 

McKinley was a driving force behind one of the most successful evacuations to date, the well-publicized rescue of the Afghan girls' national soccer team—an operation that in most public accounts hinged on the improbable relationship between right-wing radio host Glenn Beck and Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan. He is a former Air Force pararescue and CIA agent and CEO of DeliverFund, a Dallas-based anti-trafficking organization which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) asked to assist in the girls' evacuation. Members of the team were at extreme risk of trafficking, he said, because Taliban fighters viewed them as potential trophy wives; when he spoke to Motherboard in mid-September, it was to describe exactly what his organization was doing in Afghanistan.

"The girls were in one city," he said. "That became untenably dangerous; we had to move them to another city. We're on the hook for that. Someone's got to take care of them, and the cost is about $5,000 per day. Someone has to pay that. We have to pay to house these girls. We don't have people on the ground; we're logistics support."

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McKinley was explaining why DeliverFund had, in a since-deleted tweet, asked followers to donate funds for a rescue mission in Afghanistan about which it was unable to share details. He was frustrated by shady fly-by-night operators based in Afghanistan who were making big promises they couldn't deliver on. "I'm not interested," he said, "in non-viable smuggling options.”

LISBON, PORTUGAL - SEPTEMBER 29: Members of the Afghanistan Youth Women’s National Team stand in front of Torre de Belem before receiving a surprise welcome by the captain of the Afghanistan women's team Farkhunda Muhtaj during COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic on September 29, 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal. Some 80 people comprising team members, ranging from 14 to 16 years old, and members of their families were brought and granted asylum in Portugal. (Photo by Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Later, after the girls and members of their families—some 80 people in all—had been successfully evacuated to Portugal, where they now have asylum and are being supported by the government and private donors, McKinley detailed some of the complex logistics involved. It's not enough to simply secure an airplane, for instance. Countries don't want flights originating in Afghanistan traveling over or landing in their territory, and it’s extremely rare that a country is willing to give refugees political asylum. Ultimately, the government of Georgia allowed the flight to land there after Delaware senator Chris Coons and others worked the phones, talking to counterparts not only in Georgia but in Portugal and Uzbekistan in negotiations that players involved stressed were the key to the evacuation. (A Senate aide, who was granted anonymity because they are not authorized to be quoted by name, confirmed McKinley’s account, as did a Biden administration official, who was granted anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the press.) 

As this work was going on, mysterious private operators were claiming to be able to exfiltrate people over the border into Pakistan, which would trap them there, as there is no way to leave the country without showing a valid entry permit. These are the sorts of plans, involving rumored “black runways” and secret extraction sites, that McKinley classified as bullshit.

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The girls' successful and cinematic escape was an example of several people and entities working together with a common aim: USAID, DeliverFund, Afghan national soccer team captain Farkhunda Muhtaj, Coons' office and, unexpectedly, Beck, the right-wing radio host, which is where the story gets complicated.

Over the past two-plus months, Beck has become a major player in international efforts to evacuate asylum-seekers from Afghanistan through an anti-trafficking group he founded, the Nazarene Fund. On August 24, as the U.S. government was working desperately to evacuate tens of thousands of people, Beck posted to Facebook about the success the Nazarene Fund was having at solving the same hellish problem. Over the past few days, it had, Beck said, raised more than $28 million, and his August 24 post presented evidence of the good uses to which that money was being put. "Operation Nazarene Rescue: flight three has just taken off," he wrote. "Now 1,200 Christians evacuated and flown to safety."

On August 26, Beck posted on Instagram, claiming to have 5,100 refugees sitting in an unidentified country. He had no idea, he said, where they would go. (Many people working on evacuations have identified this as a central problem; getting people to Albania or Uganda is of only so much use if they'll eventually simply end up back in Kabul.) Two days after that, then-CEO Tim Ballard—founder of Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR, a controversial anti-trafficking group which has had to fulsomely deny ties to QAnon due to, for example, Ballard appearing at a conference largely devoted to QAnon conspiracy theories—posted a video to Instagram and Facebook in which he looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. The Kabul airport was shut down, he said. "At this point, at the Nazarene Fund, we need to go dark."

Then-Nazarene Fund CEO Tim Ballard in an Instagram video.

(As VICE World News has previously reported, OUR is the subject of an ongoing and widening criminal probe by Utah authorities. The FBI and IRS are also said to be involved in the investigation, which appears to be focused on misleading claims in fundraising appeals and the relationship between OUR and Ballard's for-profit ventures, though OUR has said it "has complied with all laws that regulate nonprofits and intends to cooperate fully with any official inquiry, if asked." The Nazarene Fund was, in the past, a subsidiary of OUR, but is now an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. According to a spokesperson, an annual meeting of the group's board, which consists of Ballard, Beck, and David Barton—who has been described as a "fake historian" who's "received little formal historical training" and is dedicated to promoting the idea that America was founded on Christian ideals—recently ousted Ballard and elected Barton as CEO; Ballard's social media profiles portrayed him as CEO after he had been deposed, but changed after Motherboard asked about his status.)

In the weeks following, the Nazarene Fund posted a number of vague updates, assuring followers that it was working hard behind the scenes to specifically rescue “targeted groups” including Christians and Yazidis. ("Just know things are happening," one post asserted.) On September 13, Beck begged the public for more money on his radio program.

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"I told you for $20 million, we could get three to five thousand people out. We have done that," said an emotional Beck. "We have looked at this money as sacred money. I was informed this morning that to do what we want to do is going to require another $6 million. We have raised $35.5 million."

Glenn Beck asks the public for money on his radio program; via Twitter.

On October 1, the Nazarene Fund posted a video in which Rudy Atallah, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who's running the group's operations, said that the group had moved 15 aircraft filled with, among others, Americans and persecuted Christians out of Afghanistan, and was ready to move seven to eight more. Flights had landed people in "lily pad countries," he said, and a second phase of the operation would move them to countries where they could live permanently. (Which countries might take them, when U.S. government officials actively involved in negotiations are unable to identify countries willing to grant political asylum or permanent status, is unknown.) Due to the public's generous support, he said, the Nazarene Fund was able to cover the cost of "safehouses, care and feeding, and medical treatments."

Exactly what the Nazarene Fund has spent its money on isn't entirely clear. According to both McKinley and another source directly involved with getting people out of the country, individual flights out of Afghanistan cost less than $1 million apiece, with the Nazarene Fund getting rates around $600,000. (The Nazarene Fund's spokesperson, while initially responsive, did not respond to a detailed inquiry from Motherboard asking about this and other topics covered in this story, or to several follow-ups.)

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Federal agencies, further, have been unwilling to confirm that Beck's group has in fact evacuated thousands of people. The Pentagon referred us to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department. DHS said it could not comment because it focuses on resettlement of refugees in the U.S., while a State Department spokesperson declined to confirm Beck's claims and, in response to a list of specific questions, issued a statement to the effect that it understands the need to coordinate among federal agencies, NGOs, and private citizens involved in rescue efforts and has "established a team" to do so. USAID also issued a vague statement in response to specific questions for this story; it read, in part, "USAID is in touch with our implementing partners on the ground and will continue to assess their needs and the needs of their personnel." 

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 20: U.S. President Joe Biden gestures to Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he gives remarks on the U.S. military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on August 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. The White House announced earlier that the U.S. has evacuated almost 14,000 people from Afghanistan since the end of July. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Despite the murkiness involved here, and the Nazarene Fund's general silence through September, it has had one clear success it can point to: A week after Beck's emotional fundraising plea, the group announced that it had successfully moved a flight from Mazar-e-Sharif "filled with female FIFA athletes who were directly targeted by the Taliban,” the same girls in whose rescue Nic McKinley's DeliverFund and others, including the Senate aide and the Biden administration official, were involved. 

According to these people, while the Nazarene Fund did play a significant role in the evacuation of the Afghan national girls' soccer team, it was nowhere near so central as it has, in some venues, claimed. They were key to the last 20 percent of the operation, said McKinley; the Senate aide said "They came in at the very end." 

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"The Nazarene Fund," said the Biden administration official, "was problematic in a lot of ways." 

DeliverFund, USAID, and other partners had secured a donor who was willing to pay for the girls' flight, international clearances for the flight, and an airline willing to take them. Most crucially, they had also negotiated a place for them to go—Portugal. What they didn't have was permission from the Taliban and credit from Kam Air, the airline. (While they had the money, wiring it to the airline, which was accepting only cash, would take days.) Beck and his organization—as detailed in an appearance McKinley made on Beck's radio program—assisted with both problems. 

In a September 6 letter, which he would later post to Instagram and in which he invoked the name of Lauren Boebert—and which seems to have been sent before the Nazarene Fund became substantially involved with the effort to rescue the soccer team—Beck begged Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, evidently a fan and listener, for assistance in a "humanitarian exercise to help the innocent victims in need." Khan, for his part, wrote a letter offering Beck high praise of his own, saying "Your ideas are the best representation of our beliefs" and promising to intercede with the Taliban. As chronicled in an effusive series of tweets on September 19, once the girls were safely out of the country, Beck gave himself and Khan the credit. Curiously, the governments of Georgia and Portugal, DeliverFund, USAID, and Coons, among others, went unmentioned; the latter four did come in for praise during McKinley's appearance on Beck's show, during which Beck claimed the lion's share of the credit for himself and Khan. 

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While McKinley credited Khan's improbable status as a Beck fan as key to the rescue, the Biden administration official was more reserved. "Khan and Beck was not the only iteration," they said. "It would have happened anyway."

The other aspect of the Nazarene Fund's assistance involved the actual flight. Flush with money, the Nazarene Fund had booked more flights than it could actually fill with the number of people it was assisting. It was thus able, McKinley said, to lend DeliverFund a flight credit and get the group a discounted price with Kam Air. 

A DeliverFund donor promptly wrote a check reimbursing Beck's group in full.

The Nazarene Fund's spending and the effectiveness of its efforts are unclear, and its sensational, hard-to-verify claims and exaggeration of its role in an individual operation are reminiscent of its sister organization, OUR. The group was involved in getting people out, though, and can prove it. This isn't true of every group or person asking for money.

The Nazarene Fund is just the most well-known of many private actors that have been working—or claiming to work—to get people out of Afghanistan. Experienced human rights lawyers working from the U.S. have played key roles; so have shadowy figures with government backgrounds and vague business lines in "strategic intelligence"; so have people who work for the federal government but are not acting in their official capacities, and members of anti-trafficking and missionary groups. Most describe their work largely in terms of logistics—making sure paperwork is filled out 15 different ways to meet the needs of 15 different bureaucracies, for instance. Others are directly in contact with people who need to get out of Afghanistan, and dealing with a confusing thicket of claims from those who say they can help. 

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Those who have had demonstrable success in actually evacuating people tend to stress the importance of cooperation with various U.S. government agencies, foreign governments, and private groups. (Several would speak only off the record for fear of alienating someone with whom they might have to work.) They also near-unanimously deride the State Department for not doing enough to centralize lists of people seeking to get out of the country, coordinate resources, establish clearer guidelines around who is and isn't worth working with, and generally take possession of the problem.

For its part, the State Department—which isn't obviously the correct agency to be leading these efforts, and is legally obligated to get U.S. citizens who wish to leave out of Afghanistan by whatever means are at hand—seems to have adopted a non-discriminatory attitude toward those claiming to be able to help in a chaotic situation.

In this void, predictably, a hundred flowers have bloomed. Some of the more prominent, in addition to the Nazarene Fund and DeliverFund, include the Sentinel Foundation, which worked with an Oklahoma state congressman who attempted to aid evacuation efforts and whose "behavior has alarmed top U.S. officials," according to the Washington Post; Project Dynamo; and Project Exodus, as well as independent operators who claim to be working the problem on social media. It's not exactly clear, in many cases, what they're actually doing.

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The case of Exitus is fairly typical. The anti-trafficking group was founded in 2020 by a single mother from Utah named Candace Rivera, who previously volunteered with OUR and now focuses on aftercare for trafficking survivors. Its website touts its commitment to freedom and lists nine staffers, none of whose last names are given. These include Enos S., a "Domestic Operations Director/Native Tracker," and Jared W., an "International Operations Director/Tactical Trainer." According to Rivera, no one is paid.

Exitus has maintained a vigorous social media presence since its founding. One Instagram post posed the possibility to followers of training with "EXITUS operators." Another, echoing the well-known QAnon slogan, promised "The storm is coming." (Rivera said unequivocally that Exitus does not support QAnon. "Conspiracy theories really hurt the anti-trafficking movement," she said.)

A post from Exitus via Instagram.

On August 20, Exitus posted to Instagram and Facebook telling its few thousand followers about a "unique opportunity to help Afghan refugees" and asking them to follow links to donate money. Subsequently, the Exitus website began displaying a banner reading "Help Us Rescue Those Left Behind In Afghanistan," with a link leading to a donation page. On September 10, it asserted, "Despite multiple obstacles, we have assisted In the facilitation of evacuation for over 200 Afghanistan refugees" and shared a post from Jared Wihongi, the "International Operations Director/Tactical Trainer" mentioned on its website.

"10 days. 56 hrs in the air. 3 Continents visited. Very little sleep," wrote Wihongi, himself a former OUR volunteer, describing work he had done over the past week and a half to assist Exitus. "Helped facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of at-risk Afghan refugees."

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Wihongi, according to his website, is an expert in “edged weapons” who has worked as a police officer in the Salt Lake City area for more than 20 years, with most of that being spent as a SWAT operator. The site also says he has taught close-quarters combat to agencies including the Secret Service—one letter on Pentagon letterhead lauds Wihongi for his skills in teaching Special Forces operators "hand to hand warfare"—and provided "executive protection" around the globe. While the site is filled with glowing testimonials, it does not suggest any particular background or expertise in anti-trafficking work or the specific problems posed by Afghanistan, which have largely to do with logistics and diplomacy, official or otherwise. (Wihongi was traveling and could not be reached for comment.)

Rivera, who said that she has been working 22-hour days, said she currently has multiple teams in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and freely acknowledged that she doesn't have the background or qualifications one would expect from someone engaged in this sort of work. 

"I have talked to princes, I have talked to prime ministers, I have talked to heads of state," she said. "We are nobodies, but we have a voice." She said that Exitus has raised $750,000, and that this money is going largely to support aftercare for refugees in South Africa, among other places.

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"We are in a current operations status continuing to aid in evacuations and aftercare/rehousing," she wrote in an email. "All monies donated for this project goes directly to the care in the displacement of these individuals and aids in their evacuation. Because we have ongoing efforts, we can't make specific comments to maintain the confidentiality and the safety of all involved."

"I have talked to princes, I have talked to prime ministers, I have talked to heads of state," said Rivera. "We are nobodies, but we have a voice."

Though the details of what they’re supporting may not be clear, Exitus makes it easy for people to donate to the cause. Its website directs users toward a Venmo account, through which direct donations can be given, and a Givecloud page, which allows donors to make one-time or monthly, recurring contributions. It also devotes a page to listing prestigious corporate partners like Hallmark Gold Crown and Red Bull. ("We checked our records and we have never made a contribution to Exitus," said a spokesperson for Hallmark Gold Crown. Rivera provided a letter from a local franchisee in Utah who confirmed his support; Hallmark Gold Crown reiterated that it is not a corporate partner of Exitus. Red Bull did not respond to a request for comment, but Rivera said it is not currently working with Exitus) While the site does not claim Exitus has 501(c)(3) status or that donations are tax deductible, Rivera did assert that she believes both of these things are true in an interview with Motherboard, and the very bottom of the site describes Exitus as a "non-profit organization" and lists an EIN, or Employment Identification Number. This number did not return results in an IRS database of registered nonprofit organizations.

"We are currently in a pending status," wrote Rivera, "as we have applied for an additional global non-profit status and we are told that this will be back dated, once the IRS has caught up. We are registered and listed as a Non-Profit Entity." (Rivera did not clarify where, precisely, the organization is listed; a lawyer to whom she referred Motherboard could not be reached.) 

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As in the case of the Nazarene Fund, the Pentagon, DHS, and State Department had nothing of substance to say when asked if they were familiar with the Exitus. Since a September 13 request for donations, the group has been quiet about its operations in Afghanistan. Rivera was recently cited as a trafficking expert in a local news report about a missing teen whom she claimed may have been trafficked; she did not elaborate on what led her to that conclusion. (Rivera told Motherboard that she could not disclose what made her think this, but that she had helped the FBI in the case.) She implored viewers to learn about the realities of human trafficking. "It's happening in our own backyards," she said. 

Next month, Exitus will hold a black tie gala to raise money for its endeavors. Tables are going for $2,800 apiece.

It’s not just anti-trafficking groups making outsized or opaque claims about their involvement in rescue missions. An Oklahoma woman named Allyson Reneau, for instance, has given a series of interviews claiming to have helped evacuate members of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team. Reneau is a mother of 11, motivational speaker, and gymnastics coach, and the Wall Street Journal praised her for setting in motion the chain of events that got the girls out of the country: “In Qatar a former roommate of hers now working at the U.S. Embassy stayed up all night to process the paperwork needed to get the girls out. The government of Qatar sent a plane and flew the girls out,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “The rescue is one of the few images of hope coming out of the mess and chaos of Afghanistan.” 

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As the Washington Post reported on August 26, Kim Motley, a lawyer representing the team wrote a cease and desist letter to Reneau, demanding that she stop taking credit for the rescue. Motley accused Reneau in the letter of “continuingly recycling old pictures with the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, many of whom are minors, as validation that you had anything to do with their immensely stressful and dangerous escape.” The move, Motley wrote, “not only impacts the safety of the girls but it also significantly affects the safety of the members of the team who still remain in Afghanistan.” She added, “It is highly unfortunate that you would use such a tragically horrible situation … for what appears to be your own personal gain.” 

When reached for comment by Motherboard, though, Reneau again asserted that she’d worked on the girls’ evacuation.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO- SEPTEMBER 19, 2021: Martha Delgado, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Mexican Foreign Ministry, welcomes with a ride the young Afghan girls of the robotics team, with humanitarian stay after the entry of the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. On September 19, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Luis Barron / Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

"The story is completely untrue," she said, referring to the assertions in the Post story that she was not at the center of the rescue. "I worked hand in hand with Roya Mahboob at the Digital Citizen Fund. We have over 400 texts between us.” (Roya Mahboob is a businesswoman born in Afghanistan and the founder of the Digital Citizen Fund, a nonprofit that says it helps women and girls in developing countries gain access to technology.) The U.S. government was, she said, “ready to grab the girls from where they were staying in Kabul, issue a quick ‘interview visa’ and assist in any way possible to evacuate.” When Mahboob “found a way to evacuate with Qatar,” she added, “it was only right to defer to her.”  

Reneau also shared videos of a flood of text messages between her and Mahboob. They do show Reneau, over the course of early August, offering suggestions and offering to reach out to people she knew to help with the evacuation process. Ultimately, though, they also show Mahboob telling Reneau that the rescue had been arranged through the Qatari government, and then begging her to stop giving interviews claiming otherwise.

“You know that it was Qatar government who helped the team,” one message reads. “I do appreciate your support but there are things in the article that is not true according to our statement.” 

Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, a board member at DCF, told Motherboard, “Allyson was circulating images of girls we were trying to get out of the country. DCF’s relationship dates back to the 2019 Doha Forum, when we travelled there with members of the current team. Allyson’s claims were completely unsubstantiated and yet outlets ran with headlines making extraordinary claims. Accurate information is important in a crisis; misrepresentations can lead to mistrust or worse. The focus should be on the future of girls’ education in Afghanistan.” 

Reneau, however, is undeterred. “If I had to do it all over again, and deal with the backlash I have right now, I'd do it in a heartbeat,” she said. She claims she’s now working on helping to evacuate women judges from Afghanistan. 

"I think a lot of people think it's all pretty much over now," said Haynes, the law professor. She is thankful, she said, for the many people working so hard in their private capacities to help; she also hopes that going forward, missions will not rely on private actors. That seems unlikely.

"I'm ashamed," said the Biden administration official, "of the way the U.S. government is handling this withdrawal.”

No one seems especially optimistic about the future of Afghan refugees. Most of those who have escaped the country, including those in the U.S., have temporary and provisional status, and many are living in squalid, dangerous conditions. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken could solve many of these problems with a meeting—they could agree, for example, to change the status of refugees now in the U.S.—but have not done so. It is commonly assumed that many people now in Abu Dhabi, in particular, will eventually be sent back to Kabul, where they will be at risk of being killed. The American public's indifference to those at risk, ultimately, because of a war the U.S. chose to prosecute for 20 years is one thing, but inconsequential next to that of the American government.

"I'm ashamed," said the Biden administration official, "of the way the U.S. government is handling this withdrawal.”

In this environment, it's clear that private actors ranging from the DeliverFund and its donors to the fixers Rivera has heard of who charge $8000 for Afghans to be manifested onto flights will play a central role for the foreseeable future, especially because getting someone out of Afghanistan is just the beginning. Evacuation and resettlement at scale require enormous sums of money, and there is no obvious process by which an administration that seemingly wants simply to be done with it at all will vet or evaluate the people who are raising and spending that money, or by which it will direct the outpouring of support from everyday people who want to aid the cause. Generous, skilled people will no doubt continue to do extraordinary, heroic work; predators will no doubt continue to exploit the situation; and it seems highly likely that in the middle there will be a vast number of people of varying abilities and intentions, helping or hurting or doing some of both. How much of what they all raise will be used in the ways that will do the most good, no one can know.

"Women are starving," said Haynes. "They don't have the ability to work. All of that stuff is real and important. What is not important is made-up rescue missions. What is not okay is using the real issues that women face as an excuse to raise 40 million dollars and then do nothing."

Tagged:

human trafficking, worldnews, operation underground railroad, nazarene fund

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