Greta Thunberg ‘Urgently’ Seeks Help to Evacuate Afghan Youth Climate Activists

Greta Thunberg ‘Urgently’ Seeks Help to Evacuate Afghan Youth Climate Activists
Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP, Getty Images

Fridays For Future — the global climate strike organisation that was founded three years ago by Greta Thunberg — is in trouble. On Thursday, the Twitter account repping the group’s activists working in the “Most Affected Peoples and Areas” (MAPA) put out a desperate plea begging for anyone with resources to help evacuate members currently stranded in Afghanistan. Thunberg amplified it, asking anyone who could help should to “please reach out urgently.”

It’s unclear how many Fridays for Future activists the group is trying to get out of the country. But the group has been active in the country. During the global climate strikes in 2019, about 100 young Afghans risked their lives when they marched through the centre of the capital Kabul. Earlier this month, the city fell under Taliban control in the wake of U.S. forces evacuating the country after more than two decades in the region.

Conditions in Kabul have deteriorated as citizens, interpreters, and U.S. citizens race to escape. Not long before Fridays For Future sent its tweet out, CNN reported that dozens of Afghani citizens and 12 U.S. service members were killed in an attack by two suicide bombers and multiple gunmen. (ISIS has subsequently claimed responsibility.) Other young adults have also scrambled to leave the country. Five members of all-girl robotics team were welcomed to Mexico after fleeing the country amid fears of repression at the hands of the Taliban.

That Thunberg and her group have devoted activists in Afghanistan and are trying to get them out speaks to the long reach of the climate movement. Fridays for Future Afghanistan has hosted six climate strikes on globally coordinated days over the past three years. The movement has often centered Indigenous activists and those from the developing world in its call for climate justice, including young Afghani activists who have attended international meetings to make their pleas heard. Thunberg herself has appeared with Indigenous climate justice leaders and elevated other activists of colour with smaller platforms to the global stage.

Afghanistan is responsible for a tiny fraction of global emissions, but the threat of climate change is severe. The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index recently ranked Afghanistan sixth in the world among countries most impacted by climate. Centering Afghani voices in the global climate is essential for true justice.

The sudden collapse of the Afghani government isn’t just endangering activists; it also comes just months before the upcoming United Nations climate summit being held in Glasgow in November. The former government’s team that was planning to attend the conference has scattered across the country and gone into hiding while they wait to see whether the Taliban’s leaders will reopen parts of the government focused on climate and the environment.

The Taliban has claimed it will work on climate change. In a recent interview with Newsweek, one senior Taliban official, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, said that the group believed “the world has a unique opportunity of rapprochement and coming together to tackle the challenges not only facing us but the entire humanity,” among which he mentioned climate change.

But the group has a track record of using the country’s increasing aridity to its advantage, recruiting supporters among farmers struggling to maintain stores of crops and livestock, and even offering to pay these farmers better wages than what the government offers them for farming alone. Reports have also emerged of Taliban fighters violently cracking down on protests and attacking journalists despite promises of reform. A Taliban spokesperson also told women to stay home and not go to work because soldiers “are not trained” to deal with women out in the world.