How the Instagram star helped save dozens of Afghanistan

Dozens of desperate Afghans who tried to flee the Taliban before Tuesday’s deadline for the US withdrawal from Kabul managed to reach safety with the help of an unexpected location: Instagram influencer Quentin Quarantino.

Quarantino is the alter ego of Tommy Marcus, 25, of New York City, previously best known for his liberal memes and jokes about opponents of Covid-19 vaccinations. Along with his supporters, Quarantino raised $ 7 million in days on GoFundMe to launch rescue missions in Afghanistan to evacuate as many people as possible, many of whom said they were threatened by the Taliban.

On Wednesday, their “Operation Flyaway” mission transported 51 people from Afghanistan to Uganda on a private chartered plane funded by the GoFundMe campaign.

More than 121,000 people donated to the campaign after Marcus appealed to his 832,000 followers, making it one of the largest humanitarian fundraisers in GoFundMe history.

“It is beyond humility that they have this faith in me, that they are willing to put large sums in 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 by the emergency collaboration funded by Marcus. “Go to the FundMe campaign.

“I don’t know what word to use other than miraculous because it restored faith in humanity,” Marcus said. “We have broken down the political divisions in this situation and we have really come together from all walks of life to come together and save these people because they do not deserve what their future holds if they stay in Afghanistan right now. “

Those who were evacuated, Marcus said, were women, children, aid workers and others “who have been fighting for the greater good in Afghanistan for a long time”, along with their families. Organizers said they were seeking to rescue 300 people who, along with their families, were “at imminent risk of execution by the Taliban.”

The team had been greeted with skepticism by experts who questioned whether they had the capacity to carry out such a mission at a time when governments, businesses and charities were scrambling to bring out their citizens and employees. from Afghanistan on any plane.

Marcus’ group said more than 350 people were rescued, nearly 300 of whom left Kabul on other chartered flights that “Operation Flyaway” reimbursed for allowing safe passage through the country. A State Department spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that the department appreciates “the efforts of the community to support the Afghan resettlement and resettlement process, which reflects the generosity of the American people and of the international community”.

“However, we are unable to verify the authenticity or effectiveness of these efforts,” the statement said.

Officials from several nonprofit groups describe a chaotic and perilous scene at Kabul airport as they rushed to fill private charter flights with people who have the necessary papers in the limited time they can keep their belongings. planes on the tarmac.

“I am so proud of our amazing team and what we have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time,” said Scott Shadian, CEO of Sayara. “I just wish we could have done more. Simply put, the institutions have failed and it breaks my heart to see how much more we could have accomplished. We are grateful that we brought out as many people as we did against any expectation we have ever encountered. “

At the request of the US government, Uganda received the evacuees, who will be staying in hotels in a town outside the country’s capital, Kampala. Ugandan officials have said the country will house up to 2,000 people who are expected to be relocated elsewhere after a temporary stay in the country.

The chartered flight that left Kabul early Wednesday morning is one of many private rescue efforts organized by various groups, separately and as part of collaborations, to help Afghans flee. The flight from Kabul to Entebbe, Uganda, was organized by Sayara, who informed a company working with Marcus that she knew of a plane available for “Operation Flyaway”.

Representatives from the North Carolina-based company Raven Advisory said they were able to pay for the mission using money raised through Marcus’ GoFundMe campaign. The company, which says it does contract work for the US military, said “a team of volunteers made up of former special forces soldiers and other veterans with expertise in Afghanistan” were working with the company. army to coordinate their rescue efforts.

Shadian of Sayara said he had only met members of “Operation Flyaway” on Zoom earlier in the week, and amid the chaos of the Kabul evacuations, he was delighted that they had agreed to finance the flight.

“They were one of the many miracles we 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 essential. Without the early funding of Operation Flyaway, this flight would not have taken off.

Raven Advisory CEO Sheffield Ford told the AP that in order to transport people to the airport, the US government has to be “comfortable with our organization saying that these people are fine and that they really have is doing things to help their country, to help our country. “

Although Thursday’s suicide bombing at the airport made their efforts more difficult, Ford says those they help must have a passport, a relative his group can communicate with and someone to vouch for them. ‘them and who has successfully passed a background check. The goal, Ford noted, is to transport Afghan citizens who have been targeted by the Taliban out of the country.

“Our goal was the people who wanted to make their country something great,” he said. “They thought they were going to stay there, with our support, for the long term. They will be women who work in journalism and teachers. It could be the young and old who have been very vocal against the various atrocities committed by the Taliban in the past. “

While crowdfunding has been a welcome tool for mobilizing donations in crisis situations, Patricia McIlreavy, president of the Washington-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy, emphasizes that donors should be careful when donating to efforts. private through these sites.

“There won’t necessarily be a public report on where these funds went and how they were used, the way a nonprofit – or a 501 (c) (3) – is required. by law, ”she said.

Although the rescue flights now end with the deadline for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the GoFundMe campaign has said it will donate any remaining money to the Washington-based organization, International Women’s Media Foundation. According to organizers, the foundation, which supports women journalists, will use the money to “partner with organizations and experienced experts to support people once they are on safe ground.”

Ford was impressed with how quickly millions were raised on GoFundMe for these missions.

“These are people who come together to help others,” he said. “And it was great to see that happen.”