Private groups helping thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about dwindling funds

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 (Reuters) – Stacia George hired buses to take hundreds of Afghans, including many who worked for the US government, to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif after the Taliban captured Kabul. She planned to take them to a new life outside of Afghanistan by charter jets.

But a month later, the former US development aid official said around 300 were still stranded because the Taliban allowed only a few charter flights and restricted departures to foreigners and Afghans with the approval of other countries.

Indeterminate US security clearance procedures for Afghans willing to leave also contribute to the delays George says are bleeding their organization tens of thousands of dollars a day.

“Money that we would have used to buy seats on an airplane is now going towards housing and feeding people,” said George. “Every hour that goes by is money.”

Her organization Afghanistan Transit Initiative, which says on its website that it has raised $ 1.4 million of its $ 10 million target, is not the only private group helping Afghans who are concerned about a financial crisis.

Money worries are mounting among other nonprofit groups that support thousands of vulnerable Afghans seeking evacuation from Taliban rule. Continue reading

Organizers of the Human First Coalition, a nonprofit run by military veterans and former U.S. officials, have topped up their donations by $ 6 million from their own 401,000 retirement accounts, said Joy Shanaberger, the group’s fundraising director.

“We have a burn rate of about $ 2 million a week,” Shanaberger said. “We still have 10,000 people in our care and many more on the waiting list.”

HELP THEM UNDERSTAND

The nonprofit groups grew out of ad hoc networks formed by current and former U.S. officials, veterans, and others to support what they believe to be chaotic U.S. bailout that led to the 20-year U.S.-led war in Afghanistan ended in August.

Through connections made in combat or aid programs, social media, and encrypted communications, the local groups operate networks that organize shelter, food, and medical care for vulnerable Afghans who have not been evacuated.

Many Afghans who are cared for by the groups have gone into hiding. They have little or no money for rent, medical care, or food, the cost of which has skyrocketed due to scarcity and drought.

“These are people who can’t get out or they’ll be killed,” said Zac Lois, a retired US special forces captain who oversees the operations of Task Force Pineapple, one of the largest voluntary evacuation groups.

But donations are going down, “because as soon as the news cycle goes on, the focus moves with it,” he said. “We are burning the capital at an exorbitant rate.”

If the groups run out of funds, “then the question arises, what do we do now because we are indebted to our friends,” said Lois. “You don’t leave people behind.”

The organizers refused to disclose how they can get money to their networks as they were concerned that the Taliban might find out. However, they said they are strictly adhering to US laws, including obtaining humanitarian licenses from the US Treasury Department, to avoid conflicting US sanctions against the Islamists.

The groups say tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans want to be evacuated. These include about 20,000 who worked for the U.S. government applying for U.S. special immigrant visas which, along with their families, could number about 90,000 people.

‘GOOD INTENTIONS’

Group organizers are in regular contact with the U.S. government, which they believe should finance private charter flights and negotiate landing rights in countries where evacuees could wait while their applications for U.S. visas or humanitarian parole are processed.

“This is certainly the role the government or international agencies should play,” said Jesse Jensen, a retired US Army ranger and organizer of Task Force Argo, a volunteer group trying to evacuate Americans and Afghans who are serving the US government served. “We can’t do this indefinitely.”

President Joe Biden’s administration is working to arrange the evacuation of the remaining U.S. citizens, green card holders, and SIV holders and their families. However, it had not been agreed to cover the costs of private charter flights, the private groups said.

A State Department spokesman said that despite the group’s “good intentions”, problems had arisen on every chartered flight during and after the 17-day US evacuation operation in Kabul, ranging from passengers without passports or forged documents to unaccompanied minors.

“Because of these complications and the associated security risks, we are reconsidering our support for these privately organized charter flights to determine how we can best ensure the loyalty of the manifestos,” said the spokesman.

Private promoters oppose the idea that people are not properly screened on their manifestos.

“Most of these are people we know and have served with,” said Lois of Task Force Pineapple.

However, Human First Coalition spokesman Alex Plitsas said he understood the State Department’s concerns because “many random people” have contacted private groups seeking evacuation.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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