Dozens of desperate Afghans who had tried to flee the Taliban before Tuesday’s deadline for the US withdrawal from Kabul have made their way to safety with help from an unexpected place: Instagram influencer Quentin Quarantino.
Quarantino is the alter ego of 25-year-old Tommy Marcus from New York City, previously best known for his liberal memes and his jokes about opponents of COVID-19 vaccinations. Along with his followers, Quarantino raised $7 million through GoFundMe within days to launch rescue missions to Afghanistan to evacuate as many people as possible, many of whom said they had been threatened by the Taliban.
On Wednesday, their “Operation Flyaway” mission helped transport 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 followers, making it one of the largest humanitarian fundraisers in GoFundMe history.
“It’s more than humbled that they have that confidence in me, that they’re willing to put significant amounts of money into my 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 had been chartered through the emergency partnership funded by Marcus’ Go FundMe campaign.
“I don’t know what word to use, except miraculous, because it has restored faith in humanity,” Marcus said. “We have thrown off the political divisions in this situation and have really come together from all walks of life to come together and save these people because… they don’t deserve what their future holds if they stay in Afghanistan now .”
Those evacuated, Marcus said, were women, children, humanitarian workers and others “who have long fought for the greater good in Afghanistan,” as well as their families. Organizers had said they wanted to rescue 300 people who, along with their families, were “threatened to be executed by the Taliban”.
The team was met with skepticism by experts who questioned whether they were capable of carrying out such a mission at a time when governments, companies and charities were rushing to get their citizens and workers out of Afghanistan on any plane.
Marcus’ group said more than 350 people have been rescued, with nearly 300 leaving Kabul on other charter flights that “Operation Flyaway” reimbursed for providing safe passage from the country. A State Department spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that the Department “appreciates the generosity of the American people and the international community to support the Afghan relocation and resettlement process.” reflects.”
“However, we are unable to verify the authenticity or effectiveness of these efforts,” the statement said.
Officials from several nonprofit organizations describe a chaotic and dangerous scene at the Kabul airport as they rush to fill private charter flights with people who have the necessary paperwork in the limited time they can keep their planes on the runway.
“I am so proud of our extraordinary team and what we have achieved in such a short time,” said Scott Shadian, CEO of Sayara. “I wish we could have done more. Simply put, the institutions failed, and it breaks my heart how much more we could have accomplished. We’re thankful we got as many people out of it as we did against the greatest odds we’ve had have ever had.”
At the request of the US government, Uganda received the evacuees, who will be staying in hotels in a city outside the country’s capital, Kampala. Ugandan officials said the country would receive up to 2,000 people who are expected to be relocated after a temporary stay in the country.
The chartered flight that departed Kabul early Wednesday morning is one of several private rescues being organized by various groups, individually and through partnerships, to help Afghans flee. The flight from Kabul to Entebbe, Uganda, was organized by Sayara, who advised a company working with Marcus that it knew of an aircraft available for “Operation Flyaway.”
Representatives of that North Carolina-based company, Raven Advisory, said they could pay for the mission with money raised through Marcus’s GoFundMe campaign. The company, which claims to perform subcontract work for the U.S. military, said “a full volunteer team made up of former Special Forces soldiers and other veterans with expertise in Afghanistan” worked with the military to coordinate their rescue efforts.
Sayara’s Shadian said he had met members of “Operation Flyaway” on Zoom earlier this week and in the chaos of the evacuations in Kabul was elated that they agreed to fund the flight.
“They were one of the many miracles we’ve experienced during this time,” Shadian said. “Their last-minute funding, along with the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation, Schmidt Futures and other donors, has been critical. Without the prompt funding of Operation Flyaway, that flight would not have taken off.”
Sheffield Ford, CEO of Raven Advisory, told the AP that in order to transport people to the airport, the U.S. government needs to “feel good with our organization by saying that these people are okay and that they have actually done things to make their lives better.” to help country, to help our country.”
Although Thursday’s deadly suicide bombing at the airport hampered their efforts, Ford says those helping them must have a passport, a family member his group can communicate with, and someone to vouch for them and have passed a background check. The goal, Ford noted, is to transport Afghan civilians targeted by the Taliban out of the country.
“Our focus was on the people who wanted to build their country into something great,” he said. “They thought they would stay there, with us behind them, for the long haul. It will be women who work in journalism and teachers. It may be the young and old who have spoken out strongly against the various atrocities committed by the Taliban in the past.”
While crowdfunding has been a welcome tool to mobilize donations during crisis situations, Patricia McIlreavy, president of the Washington-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy, emphasizes that donors should exercise caution when donating to private efforts through these sites.
“There’s not necessarily going to be a public report on where these funds went and how they were used, as a nonprofit — or a 501(c)(3) — is required by law,” she said.
Although rescue flights are now coming to an end with the approaching 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 organizers, the foundation, which supports female journalists, will use the money to “work with experienced organizations and experts to support people once they are on safe ground.”
Ford was impressed with how quickly millions were raised on GoFundMe for these missions.
“It’s about people coming together to help others,” he said. “And it was great to see that happen.”
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