Aid Groups Wonder Whether To Stay Or Go As Taliban Takes Over Afghanistan

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Girls study at Tanweer School in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2015. Some nonprofit groups that focus on girls’ education are scaling back their efforts now that the Taliban has once again taken over the government. The militant group had previously barred girls from going to school.

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An Afghan woman feeds a newborn baby rescued and brought to Ataturk National Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 13, 2020, after gunmen attacked a maternity ward operated by Doctors Without Borders. The health-care nonprofit runs clinics and hospitals in various parts of the country — and is continuing its medical work in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

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Goats and Soda
Afghanistan’s Health Care Is In ‘Limbo’ Following Taliban Takeover, Says MSF Rep

Still, Whittall thinks negotiating with the Taliban will be easier for MSF as an independent medical organization than it will be for other groups – especially those associated with Western governments or those working on issues such as girls’ education, which historically go against the Taliban’s beliefs.

There’s one potential threat that would make NGOs leave the country

But even groups that are determined to stay recognize that there might come a time when there’s no choice but to depart. MSF and CARE say that if they are no longer able to secure the safety of their workers, they would pull out of the country.

«Aid work, by definition, depends on aid workers,» says Mahla of CARE. «No aid worker, no aid work.»

Additionally, MSF noted that if the Taliban forced them to do anything that might jeopardize their impartiality — for example, prioritize patients based on gender, political affiliation or ethnic group – they would consider a full withdrawal.

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An Afghan NGO Worker Worries About How Her Family Will Obtain Visas To Leave

An Afghan NGO Worker Worries About How Her Family Will Obtain Visas To Leave




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But nonprofit groups want to hold on as long as they can.

That includes Sahar Education. «We have committed 20 years already,» says Malahat. «We are willing to commit 20 more – or however long it takes to improve Afghanistan.»

She says the group will look at the situation again in mid-September. If the Taliban has established a ministry of education by then, Sahar will try to work with the new government to resume its programming.

But if the Taliban doesn’t allow it to operate, or if students or teachers don’t feel safe enough to attend school, then Sahar might have to consider more creative options. That might mean setting up secret schools, which were established in homes in defiance of Taliban orders the last time the group was in power.

«Of course, we wouldn’t market it,» says Malahat with a laugh. «But if secret schools are the ultimate solution, then why not?»

Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers global poverty and inequity. Her work has appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Global Washington and War is Boring. Follow her on Twitter: @joannelu

  • aid groups
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • MSF
  • Afghanistan

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