Dozens of desperate Afghans who wanted to flee the Taliban before the deadline for US withdrawal from Kabul expired on Tuesday came to safety with the help of an unexpected place: Instagram influencer Quentin Quarantino.
Quarantino is the alter ego of 25-year-old New York City-born Tommy Marcus, previously best known for his liberal memes and jokes about opponents of COVID-19 vaccinations. Along with his supporters, Quarantino raised $ 7 million through GoFundMe in a matter of days to launch rescue missions to Afghanistan to evacuate as many people as possible, many of whom said they were threatened by the Taliban.
On Wednesday, their Operation Flyaway mission helped transfer 51 people from Afghanistan to Uganda on a privately chartered plane funded by the GoFundMe campaign.
More than 121,000 people had donated to the campaign after Marcus appealed to his 832,000 supporters, making it one of the largest humanitarian fundraisers in GoFundMe history.
“It is more than humiliating that they have this confidence in me, that they are willing to put significant sums of money into the hands that I trust,” Marcus told The Associated Press.
Saraya International, a global development company, and the Rockefeller Foundation, both of which provided organizational support for the flight to Uganda, as well as another company involved in the evacuation, confirmed to the AP that the flight was different from that of Marcus. funded emergency collaboration was chartered ‘Go FundMe Campaign.
“I don’t know what word to use other than miracle because it restored faith in humanity,” said Marcus. “We have overcome the political divisions in this situation and have really come together from all walks of life to unite and save these people because … they do not deserve what their future holds if they stay in Afghanistan now.”
According to Marcus, women, children, humanists and others “who have long been fighting for the common good in Afghanistan” and their families were evacuated. The organizers had stated that they wanted to save 300 people who, along with their families, were “in imminent danger of being executed by the Taliban”.
The team had met skepticism from experts who questioned whether they could undertake such a mission at a time when governments, corporations and charities were taking their citizens and employees out of Afghanistan in all sorts of aircraft.
Marcus’ group said more than 350 people were rescued, with nearly 300 leaving Kabul on other charter flights reimbursed by Operation Flyaway for safe passage out of the country. A State Department spokesperson wrote in a statement emailed that the department values ”community-led efforts in support of the Afghan resettlement and relocation process that reflects the generosity of the American people and the international community.”
“However, we are unable to verify the authenticity or effectiveness of these efforts,” the statement said.
Officials from several non-profit groups describe a chaotic and dangerous scene at Kabul airport as they rushed to fill private charter flights with people who, in limited time, have the necessary papers to keep their planes on the tarmac.
“I am so proud of our exceptional team and what we have achieved in such a short amount of time,” said Scott Shadian, CEO of Sayara. “I just wish we could have done more. It breaks my heart how much more we could have achieved. We are grateful that despite the greatest adversity we have ever faced, we have managed as many people as we have.
At the request of the US government, Uganda received the evacuees, who will be staying in hotels in a city outside the state capital, Kampala. Uganda officials said the nation will host up to 2,000 people who are expected to be relocated after being temporarily in the country.
The charter flight, which left Kabul early Wednesday morning, is one of several private rescue operations organized individually and in cooperation by various groups to help Afghans escape. The flight from Kabul to Entebbe, Uganda, was organized by Sayara, who told a company working with Marcus that she knew of an airplane for Operation Flyaway.
Representatives from North Carolina-based Raven Advisory said they could pay for the mission with funds raised through Marcus’ GoFundMe campaign. The company, which claims to be subcontracted to the US military, said “an all-volunteer team made up of former Special Forces soldiers and other veterans with experience in Afghanistan” are working with the military to coordinate their rescue efforts.
Sayaras Shadian said he only met members of Operation Flyaway on Zoom earlier this week and, amid the chaos of the evacuations from Kabul, was thrilled that they agreed to finance the flight.
“You were one of the many miracles we have witnessed during this time,” said Shadian. “Your last minute funding, along with the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and other donors, was vital. Without the quick funding for Operation Flyaway, this flight would not have started. “
Raven Advisory CEO Sheffield Ford told the AP that in order to get people to the airport, the US government “has to be content with our organization saying that these people are fine and that they are actually doing things have done to help their country, to help ”. our country.”
Though Thursday’s fatal airport suicide attack hampered their efforts, Ford says those they help must have a passport, a relative his group can communicate with, and someone to vouch for them who has passed a background check . The goal, according to Ford, is to get Afghan citizens targeted by the Taliban out of the country.
“Our focus was on the people who wanted to make something great out of their country,” he said. “They thought they would stay there for the long term, with our support. There will be women in journalism and teachers. It could be the young and the elderly who have spoken out very openly against the various atrocities committed by the Taliban in the past. “
While crowdfunding is a welcome tool for raising funds in times of crisis, Patricia McIlreavy, president of the Washington-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy, emphasizes that donors should be careful when donating through these websites for private purposes.
“There will not necessarily be a public record of where this money went and how it was used, as a nonprofit – or a 501 (c) (3) – is required by law,” she said.
Although the rescue flights are now suspended with the outstanding deadline for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the GoFundMe campaign said it will donate the remaining money to the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation. According to the organizers, the foundation, which supports women journalists, wants to use the money to “work with experienced organizations and experts to support people as soon as they are on safe ground”.
Ford was impressed with how quickly GoFundMe raised millions for these missions.
“It’s about people coming together to help others,” he said. “And it was great to see that.”
The Associated Press is supported by the Lilly Foundation for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content.