Roots of Peace employees left in Afghan fear retribution by Taliban
Roots of Peace CEO Heidi Kuhn and her husband Gary were thwarted last month in their mission to evacuate the most vulnerable of their nearly 400 Roots of Peace employees from Kabul, Afghanistan.
The San Raphael Parish couple had flown to nearby Istanbul, Turkey in the last week of August to help coordinate the evacuation of 76 men, women and children before the U.S. withdrawal deadline of Aug. 31.
Despite providing the required documentation for her employees and making pleas to President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other politicians and diplomats, her buses were turned away two days in a row at Hamid Karzai International Airport serving Kabul, Kuhn told Catholic San Francisco.
The Catholic grandmother founded Roots of Peace in 1997 to convert the fields of war in Afghanistan and other regions of conflict into productive farmland with thriving exports. The fruit ripening on the vines this year await harvest at a time of unprecedented uncertainty in Afghanistan, she says.
Since returning home to San Rafael on Sept. 2, the Kuhns have continued to seek ways to move their Afghan employees to safety outside the country, where the Taliban announced a new government Sept. 7. Simultaneously, they are ensuring the harvest season, upon which so many poor families are dependent, proceeds as planned. Just last week, Roots of Peace exported 500 metric tons of dried figs in 80 truckloads that will benefit rural farmers in remote provinces.
Afghans who worked for international organizations, particularly American ones, are not safe, said Kuhn, and women the most vulnerable. The employees she could not evacuate are telling her they fear retribution from Taliban.
The Taliban collected the personal documents including home addresses of those on board Roots of Peace buses outside the Kabul airport on Aug. 30. The papers were not returned to the refugees, even when the buses were turned away for the final time.
“The threat is increasing day by day for every Afghan, but mainly women who are working for international organizations,” Maryam Najeeb, a Roots of Peace employee in Kabul wrote in a Sept. 7 email to Kuhn.
“The list (of names) has already been shared with the Taliban, and they won’t take more than a half hour to take us out,” she said. “From their point of view, we are (Kaffer) infidels. We have been working with governments, international organizations and their soft targets are women.”
Kuhn and her husband Gary continue to work with Speaker Pelosi’s office and the U.S. Department of State to find immediate solutions and the emergency visas needed to evacuate her Afghan employees and their families through Islamabad, Pakistan and ultimately to a new home in San Francisco.
Gifts that benefits displaced Afghan families can be made at rootsofpeace.org