More than 700 Afghans rescued from the Taliban by Jewish lawyers in UK

Daniel Berke and Simon Myerson, who founded the charity Azadi, say they have saved about 730 people so far


TOPSHOT - Passengers stand in a queue to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane, which is the first international commercial flight to land since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan on August 15, at the airport in Kabul on September 13, 2021. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP) (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

The news cycle has moved on and the refugees in the spotlight today are from a conflict closer to home.

But who can forget the sight last summer of desperate Afghans clinging to the wheels of jets in the hope of escaping the newly ascendant Islamist fanatics of the Taliban?

Driven by their faith and their acute awareness of Holocaust history, a group of Jewish lawyers have not only refused to forget, they have created a charity. Their aim is to rescue those still in Afghanistan who are most at risk of torture and death, the prominent politicians and judges who tried to help the West bring good governance and prosperity to the war-torn country.

Incredibly, solicitor Daniel Berke and barrister Simon Myerson, who founded the charity Azadi, say they have saved about 730 people so far, with “12 Azadi babies” born since the charity launched.

Mr Myerson said: “The hardest thing is that we have to make horrible decisions about who we can help.

“We don’t have the money to save everyone, and with every person that we help they normally come with seven or eight family members.”

Azadi – which means freedom in Pashtun – was formed when Mr Berke and Mr Myerson met to discuss how they could help get more Afghan refugees into the UK.

The Americans had announced their pullout from Afghanistan and all hell was breaking loose.

Mr Berke had been working with another solicitor to try to help a high-profile female Afghan MP, Homaira Ayubi, and a female judge, get out of Afghanistan before the Taliban took complete control over the country.

Mr Berke had been hoping that Mr Myerson, as a QC, could push for a judicial review to force the government to allow in Afghans who had been part of the coalition project to bring Western values to their country.

The two quickly realised they simply did not have time to pursue legal action – which would take months or even years – when their biggest focus was the need to get people on to planes as quickly as possible.

Instead, they and a group of associates, including former members of the British armed forces, worked on paperwork, lobbying governments and raising funds.

“At first our big concern was to do with people like lawyers and judges because all of us also worked in the legal field,” said Mr Myerson, 59. “It very quickly became clear how at risk they were. Our country had encouraged Western values and that included a lot of work on domestic abuse. Many of the judges in domestic-abuse cases were women.

“But when the Taliban took over, they opened up all the prisons and suddenly all of these judges were at risk; dangerous people knew their names. It infuriated me that we weren’t helping them.”

Mr Myerson, Mr Berke, barrister Sarah Magill and retired British Army officer Andrew Fox head the organisation, which, despite the pullout, is still working to get people out of Afghanistan.

While they found it almost impossible to get people into Britain – all are cynical about the government’s visa scheme for Afghan refugees – they know that simply getting out of the country to a place of safety is the priority for most of the people they are working with.

“The most important thing is helping these people leave,” said Mr Myerson. “This country doesn’t want Afghan refugees but we have found places willing to take them, in particular Greece, Kosovo and Brazil. They recognise that these people, who often formed the intellectual elite in Afghanistan, will bring something good to their societies.

“Our work is firstly about getting people to safe houses where they are protected, then to a third country where they can wait for their visa and then finally to a safe haven where they can resettle. We pay for it all and we also have about 40 lawyers working voluntarily for us for free to help with all the paperwork that has to be done.”

The organisation, which launched a fundraising drive last week through the Manchester Jewish Philanthropic while it waits for charitable status, has to vet everyone who applies. It has already foiled several attempts by the Taliban to find out how it gets people out of the country.

The toughest aspect, said Mr Myerson, was having to make what he calls “appalling Sophie’s Choice-type decisions” about who needs to be prioritised, ahead of others. Mr Myerson said his faith not only drove him to help others – especially in the light of Jewish history – but also to come to terms with the fact that he cannot save everyone.

He said: “The Yeshiva boy in me remembers the quote from Ethics of the Fathers in the Talmud: ‘You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it’. Just because I can’t help everyone doesn’t mean we can stop.”

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