‘I’m not leaving my staff’: animal welfare charity founder issues desperate plea for help as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan

  • A welfare charity is desperately trying to secure safe passage out of Afghanistan for its vets, staff and their families as the Taliban takes control.

    Nowzad, founded by former Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing, is a Kabul-based charity that works to improve welfare and relieve suffering of animals in the country, providing care for dogs, cats, horses and donkeys in need.

    “We have got to get our team out of Afghanistan. I am not leaving them here,” said Pen, in videos shared on social media in which gunfire can be heard in the background.

    “We are not leaving them behind. We have got the power to be the difference to them.”

    The Taliban seized power of the country amid the US’ planned withdrawal of troops, taking control of all major cities in a matter of days. People are desperately trying to flee, with fears of repercussions and a return to brutal laws. Many fear the Taliban’s grip will mean a return to pre-2001 days of severe rule, including loss of women’s rights, and harsh punishments.

    More than 450 British troops and 2,300 US soldiers have lost their lives in the country in the last 20 years. Research by Brown University puts the total loss of human life in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2019 at 157,000, including more than 43,000 civilians.

    The UK is organising emergency evacuation of British nationals and for Afghan citizens who have worked for the British Government, plus those it deems as at high and imminent risk. Nowzad is lobbying for its 25 staff and their immediate families – a total of 71 people – to be included on that list.

    “I’m not leaving my staff to whatever the Taliban are going to do in the coming weeks. We need to get them out,” Pen said, adding that he will not leave until his staff are safe. “What I do want to see and it’s a simple thing, is every single member of the Nowzad team here in Afghanistan on a repatriation flight to England so they are safe.”

    The charity has also launched “operation ark” to evacuate as many animals as it can, including chartering a cargo plane, at a cost of $200,000 (£145,621). But the reality is some animals will not be fit to fly, even if evacuation does prove to be an option. The team has already had to start putting down those that it knows would not fare well on a journey, to prevent them from suffering when the charity is gone. The Taliban banned dog ownership when it was last in power, so to leave them behind would be “too much of a risk” to all involved.

    “The staff here are not safe,” Pen said. “We’ve got to get them out. We’ve got to get all of our staff out of Afghanistan. And the only place we can get them right now is the UK.”

    Nowzad has many arms. These include rehoming dogs and cats, both locally and overseas, including with soldiers who formed bonds with animals while serving in the country.

    It has a treatment clinic, which employs Afghan national vets providing care to animals in need, and the organisation is involved in training more than 100 veterinary students each year, through a partnership with the Kabul Veterinary University.

    It specialises in equine and donkey outreach work, promoting good ownership through education into equine welfare needs, employs a farrier, and is also home to a donkey sanctuary.

    “We can’t move the donkeys so we are trying to secure – and as you can imagine it’s incredibly difficult – a new location that’s closer to within the city,” said Pen. “We have some Afghan [citizens], who aren’t related to Nowzad, that will be taking care of those donkeys. As donkeys are everywhere in Afghanistan, they should be ok and we will keep sending money over for their upkeep and welfare.”

    Pen is urging all supporters to lobby senior ministers and their MPs ahead of Wednesday’s (18 August) parliamentary recall.

    “They [our staff and families] face the most horrendous future that I would not ever wish on anyone,” he added.

    “What’s happened in the last week has taken all of us by complete shock. I always thought there was hope.

    “This is the end of Nowzad as we know it. There is no tomorrow for Nowzad as an animal rescue and welfare [organisation] here in Afghanistan. That’s gone. But we still have our animals, we still have our staff, we still have a job to do.

    “Everything we’ve worked for for the last few years… that’s it. It’s over. But our new mission now is to make sure these animals get to a safe location and to start rehoming some of them.”

    For more information and to donate, visit the Nowzad website.

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