Hundreds of LGBTQ+ people in hiding from the Taliban in Afghanistan are facing a “race against time” to be rescued, campaigners working to aid their escape have said.
Nemat Sadat, a gay Afghan-American activist from San Diego, California, said he had been contacted by more than 500 LGBTQ+ Afghans through social media after he started a GoFundMe page – hoping to raise 500,000 US dollars (£367,000) to help them reach safety in countries such as the UK, US, Canada, France and Germany.
The 42-year-old author said those he had spoken to have been subjected to severe oppression, and he knows of several people killed by the Taliban because of their sexuality.
“Many are in terrible economic situations, many cannot work and are sitting at home hiding on rooftops and in closets,” Mr Sadat told the PA news agency.
“It’s also a race against time – people are starving to death, people are going to get killed by the Taliban and commit suicide.
“I know the money I’ll eventually probably get it, but the Taliban are closing in.”
Mr Sadat said he spoke to one man who had been evading capture since his partner was beheaded by Taliban fighters.
“When (the Taliban) came rolling into Kabul, this young man was with his boyfriend at a restaurant and just talking,” Mr Sadat said.
“(Because he was gay) his boyfriend was beheaded that day on the spot.”
In another instance, a lesbian woman reached out to Mr Sadat for help because she said her ex-husband was “hunting her”, planning to hand her over to the Taliban who “will probably stone her to death”.
Mr Sadat showed PA messages he had been sent by those trapped in Afghanistan, many of whom described themselves as prisoners.
“I have no money, I have no duty, we are deprived of everything… I live like a prisoner,” reads one message.
In another message, a man describes holding the body of his boyfriend in his arms after he was killed by the Taliban because of a “gay naked picture” found on his social media.
Mr Sadat said that even though his list of those in need continued to grow, it was “still a very small percentage of the entire LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan”.
So far he has raised over 9,500 dollars (£6,900) out of his 500,000-dollar fundraising target, with most of the money paying for passports or humanitarian visas.
He said every dollar donated “will go towards saving a life”, and he is also willing to put people in direct contact with those who are trapped so they can offer first-hand support.
In the UK, Rainbow Migration has also been trying to help LGBTQ+ Afghans.
When Kabul fell, the group wrote a letter with the LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall to the then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, asking him to evacuate people from Afghanistan.
Today we sent a letter to @DominicRaab urging him to make LGBTQ+ Afghans a priority group for evacuation. With @RainbowMigrants, we demand an urgent response that includes LGBTQ+ Afghans as a priority group for immediate assistance. Please RT to support. pic.twitter.com/D4TKt8iNAJ
— Stonewall (@stonewalluk) August 24, 2021
Leila Zadeh, the executive director of Rainbow Migration, told PA she was concerned about the impact the Nationality and Borders Bill would have on LGBTQ+ individuals hoping to escape from Afghanistan.
She said the bill “will criminalise people for trying to seek safety and make it much harder for them to secure refugee status and rebuild their lives in the UK”.
In a debate on LGBTQ+ Afghan Refugees on September 21, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, MP for Streatham and Shadow Immigration Minister, said: “The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill will drastically limit the ability of those facing persecution to apply for asylum in the UK.”
The Labour MP said the Bill would “only guarantee temporary protection for refugees travelling via a third country” and make it more difficult for those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community to prove they are deserving of asylum.
A Government spokesperson said: “The New Plan for Immigration [which is at the committee stage] will disincentivise people from having to make dangerous and potentially life-threatening journeys across the Channel, through encouraging individuals to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.
“The United Kingdom will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes.
“Through the new Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme [ACRS], up to 20,000 people most in need will be welcomed to the UK.
“The ACRS will prioritise those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech, as well as vulnerable people, including women and girls and members of minority groups who are at risk.”
To access Mr Sadat’s fundraiser, go to: uk.gofundme.com/f/help-lgbtq-afghan-refugees-rebuild-their-lives
More information on Rainbow Migration, including how to donate, can be accessed here: www.rainbowmigration.org.uk