A few weeks ago we shared the story of Afghan women cyclists who, after decades of rebuilding their rights and freedoms, were now desperate to flee the country and fearing for their lives under the Taliban. Shannon Galpin and her colleagues, who had worked alongside these women and shared the freedom of two wheels, have been working tirelessly to communicate with and help evacuate them.
When we last caught up with Galpin she was in the early stages of helping with the evacuations from afar and was in the middle of setting up a fundraiser to finance them.
On Tuesday, Afghanistan wakes up to a new reality of Taliban rule. After 20 years, the last of the U.S troops have left the country to the backdrop of celebratory gunfire from the Taliban and more attacks by an opportunistic Islamic State. Islamist militia in the country are stronger than ever and women like those Galpin has worked with face a total loss of the freedom they have built over two decades — or worse, reprisals for the lives they have lived until now.
Since the middle of August, Galpin received endless messages and pleas for help from the Afghan women she worked with. She has been sharing some of these interactions on her Instagram page. Yesterday, she posted an update, the caption read:
“It is day 15 of the evacuation from Afghanistan. This has been a story of two evacuations. One for Americans which was a complete fucking disaster. Many were left behind. I saw endless threads of messages about American citizens not allowed through gates through the past two weeks.
The second story is one of an Afghan blockade. If American passport holders struggled to get through the airport gate it was nearly impossible for Afghans. When they finally got confirmation that they won the lottery ticket of getting a seat on a plane, the majority were refused entry into the airport. They were humiliated, they were abused, they were told willfully false information. Planes left half empty and it wasn’t just one or two. We cajoled and pleaded and jumped through endless hoops that changed hour by hour in order to shepherd individual Afghan families across the gauntlet of the airport gate. The rules changed and we adapted, they changed again we adapted again, but it was clear that the game was: keep Afghans from boarding the planes sent to evacuate them.”
In the same post, Galpin revealed that some of the cyclists she has worked with have made it out of the country:
“I wanted to share that there are 12 members of the national team and another 40 young women of the Afghan cycling federation that got through the gauntlet. We have original leaders of the first generation of cycling safely out. We have families out who have been separated over the past several years,” she wrote.
“There is an invisible network of activists, veterans, filmmakers, lawyers, non-profit leaders, and many are part of the Afghan diaspora, all linked together on a digital constellation that has been sharing information, remotely shepherding Afghans through the gatekeepers, working to keep them safe if they had no way through.
This isn’t done. Evacuation is still ongoing. And the next step of visas and finding new homes and building community is already started. Mental health for those that need it to process the trauma. It’s about support, not rescue. This has been shameful. I’m sorry to every Afghan that has had to endure this.”
The Taliban have promised to allow any Afghan who wants to leave the country to leave, and U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised that the US will hold them to this and assist those who choose to flee.
So far, more than 123,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul, however, tens of thousands remain in the country and the process of fleeing is far from straightforward.
Many of the cyclists may have made it out, but for Galpin, the work is not over, “It’s still 24 seven and had to evacuations in process right now” she told CyclingTips via email on Tuesday. Her call to the outdoor community remains the same as before: “Don’t look away, don’t get distracted. That’s what they’re counting on,” and for those who are able, to donate to the fund to assist the continuing evacuation efforts.