How One Group Is Helping Refugees Get Out of Afghanistan and Other Places of Conflict
The collapse of Afghanistan's government and the resurgence of the Taliban has shocked many as scenes of chaos and desperation play out in the capital of Kabul.
Taliban militants seized control of the city on Sunday in the wake of the United States' end to its 20-year military operation. It was a "gut-wrenching" outcome, President Joe Biden said in a speech on Monday, but one he believes is beyond the power of the America to address.
As Biden argued that Afghanistan's future now rests with its people, observers have turned to aid groups and other organizations to help those who remain in the country and those who are seeking to flee the Taliban, with its history of severely curtailing human rights, especially those of women.
One group working to aid Afghans trying to get out is Miles4Migrants, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity formed in September 2016 that depends on donations of airline miles and money to get displaced persons to safe new homes.
PEOPLE spoke with Miles4Migrants co-founder Seth Stanton about how to help right now.
PEOPLE: What is Miles4Migrants?
SS: Miles4Migrants is a way for you to use your frequent flyer miles, credit card points and money to fly refugees, asylees, asylum seekers and their family members to safety and new homes.
Tell us about some of the specific people you've helped over the years.
We've flown people from I don't even know how many countries at this point — it's an insane number of countries. We have flown Afghans who worked as translators for the U.S. military; we have flown LGBT activists. We have flown Cubans who protested the dictatorship. We flew a man who carried his handicapped son from Honduras to the U.S. border. We flew a Thai folk band who wrote songs about how they didn't like the Thai government and then the Thai government tried to kill them. We flew a family from Zimbabwe where the husband's father was a politician and he lost his political race and the opposition decided that they would not only kill him but also his oldest son so the family knew they shouldn't be part of politics anymore. The stories just go on and on.
If people are looking specifically to help in Afghanistan, what can they do?
We had been flying people out of Afghanistan right up until the airport [in Kabul] was closed. We have no idea how long it's going to be closed. We have families that are scheduled to depart the airport within the next several days, within the next several weeks, within the next month, that we are hopeful will be able to depart.
If you give us miles now, are we going to be able to book a flight for the people who are currently standing on the tarmac? Probably not. But if it's available, we will book them.
The way that we work is that other charities come to us with requests. It's not like Miles4Migrants, this small and mighty group that our employees are, know the over 5,000 people that we've flown up to this point. We have partnerships with about 50 charities across the entire world, where those charities come to us and say, "We have this Afghan family, we have this man from Cameroon who is trying to seek asylum," whatever the story is. They come to us and they say, "Here's their paperwork" — the government of whatever country is receiving them says that they are legal to be here, they are legal to fly — we're not flying anyone who is quote-unquote "illegal," even though I hate that term. All that stuff is taken care of.
We hear questions a lot where people are like, "Are we allowed to fly the people that we're flying?" The answer is yes.
Where can people go to donate if they are interested?
Go to Miles4Migrants.org. You pledge frequent flier miles, credit card points, money, vouchers from canceled flights, because god knows we've had millions of those over the last 18 months. You can pledge gift cards — all kinds of stuff. If there's something that's not listed in the pledge form, just go to "contact us" and send us a message.
And know that because of current events, it make take us a little while to get back to you.
What can people expect after they've donated?
We very often get a note or a photograph or something like that from the family or the people that you've helped. So there's an intensely personal benefit. We just had one last night, this Palestinian family that we reunited. It's pictures from the airport where everybody's hugging and the person holding the camera is crying and you can tell because the pictures are slightly diagonal. We always ask if we can use the photo publicly, can we use your name, your photo, should we blur your faces out? And the woman wrote back and said, "You all cooperated in drawing a smile on our faces and joy in our hearts. You have our love and respect and we thank you all. Therefore there is no need to hide our faces."