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 distinguished human rights lawyer and member of the UK House of Lords, along with 25 of his other aides and their families were engineering the judge’s escape.
One of the women was refusing to leave without her husband, who was denied boarding because her passport had expired.
With his noble title of Baroness, Judge initially thought Kennedy was related to the Queen and might have pulled some strings. Kennedy told her: “If you go away now and take the kids I’ll do everything in my power to get him out.” But could she guarantee it? “No,” she told the judge. The whole family was left behind. Kennedy put down the phone and cried as he stood near a chartered plane with eight empty seats at Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport.
For years, these women defended the rule of law in Afghanistan and did so so that their potential killers would be rewarded by the Taliban, who offered rewards and rewards for anyone who killed them before they gained power. As the Taliban regained control and the prisoners were released, the women judges and prosecutors involved in their sentences received calls carrying the message: “We are following you.”
From his home office in London, Kennedy explained where the money came from and how he and his small team at the International Bar Association’s Institute for Human Rights became a center of sorts for the evacuation.
While the Baroness is not royalty, she is engaged. One of the largest donations came from a Canadian philanthropist amounting to $300,000. A UK celebrity also contributed a significant amount but neither wanted to publicize his name. The cost of each of the three planes Baroness chartered was US$700,000. On the ground, money helped too: Kennedy bought a sheep as a wedding gift for a Taliban leader’s daughter, a gesture of goodwill that facilitated a safe passage.
‘We had to lose our lives’
Judges and lawyers had to move from safe houses to Mazar-i-Sharif airport in the north of the country.
There are people she can’t name, “unknown, wonderful people on the ground, who provided a level of security,” she said. To avoid problems at the checkpoints, the women were asked to remove all photos of them wearing their black judges’ robes. “We had to erase our lives,” one told me. But there are some things that they cannot let go. Judge Zahra Haidi, age 28 and pregnant with her first child, described how she hid her phone in her bra and sat on her diploma in the car, believing the Taliban would not ask her to get out. He didn’t.
The plan also involved negotiating with air traffic control and, eventually, securing permission for people to leave the country with only their identity cards. This meant that the family that was left behind on the first flight was able to board the second flight.
Destination? Athens. Crossing Iranian airspace proved too complicated – instead they found a winding route through Georgia.
Kennedy convinced the President of Greece, himself a former lawyer and judge, to let him in. She says without hesitation that they “begged, borrowed and stole” money to get money for their accommodation.
“It’s time for Schindler’s List,” Kennedy said. “I hope there will come a time when I can say ‘These are the people who helped me’,” she said.
Now with Canada’s election and a new cabinet in place, she hopes to get help from Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, who has been handed a list of all women aided by Kennedy who are awaiting resettlement.
“Canada has a great tradition of responding to humanitarian crises,” she explained, “I’m really begging the Canadian government to take some of my families.”
Ireland, Iceland, Germany and Australia are among the countries that have already raised their hands.
After several flights, Athens now has about 80 women and their families – more than 400 in total – in the hope that a country will open its doors permanently. But they are the ones Kennedy and his team assisted.
NGOs and other individuals who lobbied for the Greek government have managed to bring in hundreds more female parliamentarians, including a safe haven at the Melissa Network, a migrant and refugee women’s organization based in Athens.
It is believed that 40 percent of female representation in the Afghan parliament is now in Greece. While they wait for a country to pick them up, their meetings at the Melissa Network Center on the building of a parallel parliament.
Shagufa Noorzai tells me, “We want to form an organization so that we can advocate and work for Afghan women in Afghanistan under the name of Afghan Parliamentarians in Afghanistan.” She is the youngest MP in the Afghan Parliament.
Baroness Kennedy plainly said, “Listen, you don’t find women who have professions like this, who haven’t married men, who are themselves (…) judges, lawyers, and even professionals,” these Those are the people who will contribute a lot. For any nation that took them in. ,
The Greek government says they want to see them settled before Christmas.
Baroness Kennedy says there is another flight she would like to organize, but is short of funds.
“It’s the real thing, and we have to help these people.”