The U.S. and U.K. Must Act Now to Help Religious Minorities Fleeing the Taliban

September 24, 2021

Miles Windsor, Senior Manager for Strategy and Campaigns with RFI’s Middle East Action Team, published two articles this week discussing the obligation of the United States and United Kingdom to act quickly to help vulnerable religious minorities fleeing Afghanistan. 

In a piece for Religion Unplugged, Windsor writes that it was encouraging to hear British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a speech to the House of Commons on September 6th confirm that the U.K. would help aid and resettle those whose religion makes them particular targets for the Taliban. However, he continues, “we must act now to save these people. Dither and delay will give the Taliban time to catch up with them — bureaucracy can be a killer.”

Religious minorities such as Sikhs, Hindus, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Hazara Shi’as, and Christians are in grave peril. Afghan Christians are in particular danger, as they are converts from Islam and therefore considered “apostates” by the Taliban. Unfortunately, many of the most vulnerable religious minorities “have been dragged from pillar to post and shifted from safe house to safe house” in the chaos of the U.S. retreat. In their attempts to flee: 

They have been directed on multiple missions to the Hamid Karzai International Airport with the promise of flights waiting on the tarmac but turned away by armed forces personnel. They have been smuggled to the border only to be turned back by the neighboring countries that don’t want refugees. 

In the meantime, those of us who have been seeking to support and defend them have been working day and night, planning exfiltration operations, reviewing intelligence on routes and hazards, liaising with religious leaders and pressing for diplomatic solutions to open a door for these besieged Afghans — all to no avail, with all exits barred. 

Now, after several harrowing attempts, many of these minorities are exhausted and in hiding underground, fearing a knock at the door at any moment.  

Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have intimated that they will allow these Afghans across their borders if their transit to other countries is confirmed.  “If the U.S. or the U.K. would vouch for them and confirm that they will transit swiftly to a destination country,” Windsor writes, “then they could cross over to safety. It’s that simple.” 

In another piece, this time published in RealClearReligion, Windsor emphasizes that it is the moral obligation of the United States and its allies to take these actions: 

…having spent 20 years on the ground there, America does bear significant responsibility for what happens to ordinary Afghan citizens. There is a very clear obligation to those who will suffer most and likely die at the hands of the Taliban.

Windsor continues:

The United States and United Kingdom have a responsibility to act decisively and immediately to provide confirmation to bordering countries, to issue visas, and to get these Afghans to safety. There is no time for bureaucratic dithering. We must act now. Every day that passes brings the Taliban closer to their prey.