The images from Ukraine tragically say it all: More than 2 million people have fled the country and civilians are finding themselves in the line of fire — literally — of the Russian armed forces, which as of now appear determined to dig in and fight with a scorched-earth strategy. Meanwhile, the suffering of people who have fled countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen has still continued.
While the crisis in Ukraine is frightening in part over its potential to spark a new world war, critics of how the media have covered the conflict so far are absolutely right, starting with their point that somehow, it’s easier to have sympathy for people who “look like us.” The treatment of Black and Brown nationals who have been trying to flee Ukraine further highlights the unfair standards that Afghans, Syrians and Yemenis have confronted in recent years as they seek freedom and dignity. Brewing refugee crises in African countries such as Cameroon and Ethiopia have also failed to attract mainstream media attention.
But even as the media spotlight has faded in Afghanistan six months after the U.S. military left the country, there have been some companies and nonprofits that have remained committed to the Afghan people and the refugees who are searching elsewhere for a new life. We’ll direct the spotlight toward a few examples.
Let’s start with Airbnb, which last month reached its goal to house 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. The online booking company has partnered with a range of nonprofits, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Church World Service (CWS), HIAS, and such Afghan-led groups as Women for Afghan Women and the Afghan Coalition.
Such assistance is necessary as refugees face enough hurdles as they try to settle into a new life — among them the high cost of living. In addition, groups such as the Tent Coalition for Afghan Refugees is still investing resources into training and hiring refugees here in the U.S.
Then, there’s the even harder work that needs to occur on the ground in Afghanistan. One nonprofit that strives to save Afghan women and their families is Japan-based REALs, which since the late 1990s has focused on conflict prevention and building peace across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
“As the charter evacuation flights have dramatically decreased since last September, we started securing other exit routes and providing protection,” Rumiko Seya, REALs’ president, recently explained to the New York Times. “There are many pregnant women who can’t go to the hospital because they are afraid of being captured. So we send female doctors to their homes.” Out of the 800 requests it received for evacuation, REALs has been able to help 184 of them, with about 150 in process and as many as 500 people awaiting for their cases to be heard.
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Other companies have had a role in opening opportunities to Afghan refugees. One of them is the travel operator Untamed Borders, which hired the first woman tour guide (and so far as we know, the only tour guide) in Afghanistan. The story of Fatima Haidari is inspiring, but like many Afghan women with a public profile, she had to flee her country last year and is currently studying in Italy.
“Corporate America can do more to meet the long-term needs for Afghan refugees – including job training and placement, child care support, transportation, health care and mental health services, financial literacy and so much more,” Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, and Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia wrote in a USA Today op/ed in December. “Everyone has a role to play in responding to this crisis, including the global business community, and we urge more business leaders to help us meet the growing needs of the Afghans rebuilding their lives now and into the future.”
Image credit: Joel Heard via Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.