Raising hands for Afghanistan

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A member of the Taliban forces talks block the roads around Kabul airport as a woman wearing a burqa walks past Aug. 27, 2021. Religious minorities and women are concerned about their treatment at the hands of the Taliban and other religious extremists. Photo: CNS pho
A member of the Taliban forces blocks the roads around Kabul airport as a woman wearing a burqa walks past Aug. 27, 2021. Religious minorities and women are concerned about their treatment at the hands of the Taliban and other religious extremists. Photo: CNS photo/Stringer, Reuters

Lawyer, teacher and womens’ rights advocate Hava Rezaie knows first-hand what life is like under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

As Director of the Office for Womens’ Affairs in Afghanistan for 10 years, she campaigned for an end to women being treated as second class citizens under the Taliban in a climate in which domestic violence was common.

Hava’s activism led to the establishment of the Commission for the Rights of Women which with the support of the United Nations, helped ensure that women could have access to Legal Aid.

“We know that whenever human rights are threatened in any part of the world and when people’s liberties are taken away, that really endangers the safety, security and freedom of people everywhere.”

But this brave work in turn placed Hava in great danger. She was arrested by the Taliban and knew that she could know longer live safely in Afghanistan.

In 2013, Hava sought asylum in Australia and is now an Australian citizen who mentors refugee women in Sydney through Jesuit Refugee Services Australia.

Hava shared her remarkable personal story at a special online event, “Raising Hands for Afghanistan” on 10 September, organised jointly by Sydney Catholic Schools and the Justice and Peace Office of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

People try to get into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021. During his Angelus address Aug. 15, Pope Francis expressed his concern for Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s control of the country. PHOTO: CNS/Reuters

The event was an opportunity for Hava to speak alongside refugee advocates and leaders from Catholic organisations about the horror facing thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan and to promote the Archbishop’s Afghan Refugee Appeal.

Launched on 29 August by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the appeal will raise desperately needed funds and commit Archdiocesan agencies and partners to providing pastoral, educational, health and welfare assistance to Afghan families and individuals fleeing their homeland.

3000 Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in Australia over coming months under an arrangement with the federal government.

“In lot of ways, Jesus himself was a refugee and those of us who claim to follow him must support this as a matter of principle.”

Sydney Catholic Schools’ Director of Mission and Identity, Dr Anthony Cleary said it was critical for people of faith to rally behind the refugees and do all we can to support them.

“We know that whenever human rights are threatened in any part of the world and when people’s liberties are taken away, that really endangers the safety, security and freedom of people everywhere”, Dr Cleary said.

“And we have a commitment as Christians to reach out to those in need and the people in great need at the moment are of course our Afghan brothers and sisters. Through this appeal, may we all be drawn from indifference to a loving compassion and action, of stepping forward and being people of courage and conviction”.

Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrive at the transit and registration camp in the town of Presevo, southern Serbia, on 24 November.Photo: CNS/Djordje Savic, EPA

Another speaker at the Raising Hands for Afghanistan event was the President of the Refugee Council of Australia and Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, Mr Phil Glendenning. He urged all Catholics to support the appeal.

“In lot of ways, Jesus himself was a refugee and those of us who claim to follow him must support this as a matter of principle. Let’s all stand then with the people of Afghanistan and mobilise our resources to enable them to access the justice they deserve to have at this time”, Mr Glendenning said.

“… we’ve got around 13,000 Afghans living in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas and they should be able to remain permanently in Australia.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has called on the federal government to be far more generous in its intake of Afghan refugees into Australia, arguing the number should be increased to 20,000 to reflect the scale of the humanitarian crisis.

Mr Glendenning has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take up the call from the Australian bishops and also provide permanent protection to Afghan asylum seekers currently in Australia.

Justice and Peace Promoter for the Archdiocese of Sydney Father Peter Smith

“At the moment, we’ve got around 13,000 Afghans living in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas and they should be able to remain permanently in Australia. The Australian government closed its own embassy in Kabul in May since the country was unsafe and it should recognise the need to grant permanent residency to the Afghans fleeing their country under traumatic circumstances”, he said.

Fr Peter Smith from the Justice and Peace Office in the Archdiocese of Sydney said Australia had a special obligation to supporting critics of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

”So many of these people have assisted our Australian Defence Force personnel and so we have a real obligation to support them and grant them refugee status here”, Fr Peter explained.

“Jesus calls us to treat others as you would also like to be treated. We know that on Judgement Day, Jesus will ask us- ‘How did you offer a cup of water to other people? And as long as you do this to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me”.

“Let us open our doors to these refugees from Afghanistan.”

The online event concluded with a short concert by talented singing priest. Fr Ron Galea, who encouraged all those watching to support the appeal with a generous heart.

“Let us open our doors to these refugees from Afghanistan, even in this time of COVID-19. Let us be generous to all our children”, he said.

Donations to the Archbishop’s Afghan Refugee Appeal can be made online here

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