Afghanistan rescue: UK baroness rescues female judges

ATHENS, GREECE – One September morning, Baroness Helena Kennedy was at home in north London when she received an urgent call from a female Afghan judge. Kennedy, a prominent human rights lawyer and member of the British House of Lords, was on the run from the judge’s escape along with 25 other of her colleagues and their families.

One of the women refused to travel without her husband, who was denied boarding due to her expired passport.

With his noble title as baroness, the judge initially thought Kennedy was related to the queen and could pull in some threads. Kennedy told her, “If you go now and take the kids, I’ll do everything in my power to get him out.” But could she guarantee it? “No,” she said to the judge. The whole family stayed behind. Kennedy hung up the phone and cried, as did the judge, who was standing near a chartered plane at Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport with eight empty seats.

For years, these women protected the rule of law in Afghanistan and made it known that their future assassins would be rewarded by the Taliban, who handed out rewards and prizes to anyone who killed them, even before they regained power. When the Taliban regained control and the prisoners were released, the female judges and prosecutors involved in their sentencing began receiving calls that delivered the message, “We are coming for you.”

From her home office in London, Kennedy explained where the funds came from and how she and her small team at the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute became a sort of hub for evacuations.

Although the Baroness is not royal, she is connected. One of the largest donations came from a Canadian philanthropist for a sum of $ 300,000. A British celebrity also contributed a significant amount, but none of them wanted their name published. Each of the three planes chartered by the Baroness cost $ 700,000. On the ground, money also helped: Kennedy bought a sheep as a wedding present for the daughter of a Taliban leader, a gesture of goodwill that facilitated safe passage.


Judges and lawyers had to travel from safe houses to Mazar-i-Sharif airport in the north of the country.

There are people she can not name, “nameless, wonderful people on earth who provided a level of security,” she said. To avoid problems at checkpoints, the women were instructed to delete all photos of themselves wearing their black judge robes. “We had to erase our lives,” said one of me. But there are certain things they could not let go of. Judge Zahra Haidi, 28, pregnant with her first child, told how she hid her phone in her bra and sat on her diploma in the car, thinking the Taliban would not ask her to come out. They did not.

The scheme even involved negotiating with air traffic control and eventually securing permission to allow people to leave the country with only their identity cards. This meant that the family left on the first flight could board the second.

Destination? Athens. Crossing Iranian airspace turned out to be too complicated – instead, they found an entangled route via Georgia.

Kennedy persuaded the president of Greece, himself a former lawyer and judge, to let them in. She states without hesitation that she has “begged, borrowed and stolen” to get the money to pay for their home.

“This is Schindler’s List time,” Kennedy said. “I hope there comes a time when I can say ‘It’s the people who helped me,'” she added.

With the Canadian election now over and a new cabinet in place, she hopes there will be help from Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, who has been handed a list of all the women assisted by Kennedy awaiting resettlement.

“Canada has a great tradition of responding to humanitarian crises,” she explained, “I really urge the Canadian government to take some of my families.”

Ireland, Iceland, Germany and Australia are among the countries that have already raised their hand.

After several flights, there are now almost 80 women and their families – more than 400 in total – in Athens, hoping that a country will permanently open its doors. But those are the only ones Kennedy and her team helped.

NGOs and other individuals who have also lobbied the Greek government have managed to get hundreds more in, including female MPs who have found a safe haven at Melissa Network, an organization for migrant and refugee women based in Athens.

It is believed that 40 percent of the female representation in the Afghan parliament is now in Greece. While waiting for a country to take them, their meetings on the Melissa Network are about creating what they call a parallel parliament.

“We want to create an organization so that we can support and work for the Afghan women in Afghanistan under the name of Afghan MPs,” said Shagufa Noorzai. She is the youngest member of the Afghan parliament.

“Listen, you do not get women who have professions like this, who are not married to men who are themselves (…) also judges, lawyers and professionals,” Baroness Kennedy said bluntly, “these are people who would contribute greatly to any nation that took them in. ”

The Greek government says they would like to see them settled before Christmas.

Baroness Kennedy says there is one more flight she would like to organize, but lacks the funds.

“This is the real thing, and we have to help these people.”


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