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Rainbow Railroad's Involvement in Afghanistan - A Timeline

In the timeline below, we share, for the first time, a detailed picture of our involvement in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad's Involvement in Afghanistan - A ...
Rainbow Railroad shares its involvement in Afghanistan live on CNN on September 17, 2021.
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Rainbow Railroad's Involvement in Afghanistan - A ... Rainbow Railroad's Involvement in Afghanistan - A ...

Our Work in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad has, since August 13, 2021, been one of the few civil society organizations focused on supporting the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan.

In the timeline below, we share a comprehensive look at our work in Afghanistan over the past 12 months.

In that time, we have received more than 5,400 requests for help from Afghanistan, provided life-saving support and financial assistance to 648 people across numerous programs, including the resettlement of 247 LGBTQI+ Afghans into Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Ireland and done this work at a direct cost of at least $1.5 Million, with more needs imminent as we work to continue our response

Learn more below.


Requests for Help, August 13-31: 457  

In August 2021, Rainbow Railroad begins its response in Afghanistan. Almost overnight, our requests for help go from 50 to 457.

August 13

As reports emerge of the imminent fall of Kabul, the Government of Canada publishes press release expanding resettlement program, welcome 20,000 at-risk Afghans. This release specifically mentions LGBTQI+ Afghans.

Read Canada’s announcement regarding its special program for vulnerable Afghans.

August 15

President Ashraf Ghani flees Afghanistan as Kabul falls to the Taliban 

August 18 

Rainbow Railroad releases its first statement on the situation in Afghanistan. Click to read. 

Our work is featured in Time Magazine in an article about the plight facing LGBTQI+ Afghans

August 26

A suicide bombing occurs place at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. At least 183 people are killed. Rainbow Railroad caseworkers were engaged with individuals impacted by the bombing in their attempts to flee the country.

Rainbow Railroad attempts to secure its first seats on US military charter flights as we post an update on work our work in Afghanistan. Click here to read.

August 31

The arbitrarily set deadline for US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; military evacuation is concluded.

While this happens, we are:

– Coordinating with remaining civil society networks/advocates in Afghanistan to monitor the situation

– Joining international networks supporting all vulnerable Afghans, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, OutRight Action International, Dignity for All, Journalists for Human Rights, Stonewall UK, Women for Afghan Women, the Human Rights Foundation, and numerous others

– Providing lists of over 200+ vetted names for military evacuation to the governments of Canada, the UK and the USA. Dozens made it to safety during this initial stage of the evacuation

– Increases casework capacity including adding Afghan specific caseworkers and mental health supports to the team.


September 20

The Canadian federal election occurs.

In lead-up to election, Rainbow Railroad issues a 3-part call to action to the Canadian government, including requests for a direct referring partnership and an emergency response plan for international refugee crises.

Read our plan here.

September 1

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell travels to Pakistan to facilitate the opening of a safehouse. Since its opening, over 150 Afghans have received support and shelter through this operation. 

Between late August and early September, Rainbow Railroad coordinated with a local youth LGBTQI+ collective in Afghanistan to support their evacuation work. Through triage and negotiation support, Rainbow Railroad contributed to the evacuation of more than 50 individuals. 

Requests for Help : 387

In early September, Rainbow Railroad began receiving reports of extreme violence towards LGBTQI+ people in Afghanistan, including public executions. 


Requests for Help: 605

In early October, Rainbow Railroad is approved to bring LGBTQI+ Afghans into the United Kingdom

October 2 

Kimahli returns to Pakistan to help facilitate beginning of evacuation of those in the UK evacuation pipeline, primarily from Rainbow Railroad’s safehouse 

October 9

Kimahli travels to London to meet with colleagues regarding of our direct referral partnership with the UK government

October 10

17 LGBTQI+ Afghans arrive in Ireland supported by Rainbow Railroad

October 20 

Rainbow Railroad provides submission to Canadian government to evacuate 200 LGBTQI+ Afghans through the US-Canada referring partnership

October 29, 2021 

29 Afghans arrive in the UK supported by Rainbow Railroad – our first emergency direct referral operation, and the first LGBTQI+ Afghans taken by the UK 

Almost 100 Afghans supported by Rainbow Railroad have since been resettled through this pathway; among them were human rights advocates, healthcare workers, civilians & their families 


November 1, 2021

Rainbow Railroad joins other human rights organizations in demanding action from the Canadian Government in a landmark open letter.

Read the letter here.

Requests for Help: 795 


Requests for help:  946 

Our requests for help hit their peak – 946 in a single month

December 13

Rainbow Railroad expands its Afghanistan team to coordinate ongoing resettlement operations

December 15

Rainbow Railroad briefs staff from House Foreign Affairs Committee in the US on the ongoing status of the crisis 

December 21 

The first group of Afghans supported by Rainbow Railroad are invited to apply for asylum in Canada as part of the US-Canada Refugee Sharing Agreement


January 26

Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International, with the direct consultation of Rainbow Railroad, issue a report detailing the unfolding situation and its impact on LGBTQI+ people on the ground in Afghanistan

Read the report here.

Requests for Help: 817

Rainbow Railroad secures a team of 60 pro bono lawyers to help process and facilitate resettlement of 200 LGBTQI+ Afghans headed by the Battista Immigration Law Group.


Requests for Help: 182

February 24

Russia invades Ukraine, and western governments have still yet to actualize Rainbow Railroad’s call for an emergency response plan to protect LGTBQI+ individuals during refugee crises

While requests from help from Afghanistan continue, Rainbow Railroad is now dealing with two global geopolitical crises 


March 18

LGBTQI+ Afghans begin resettlement screening from the Canadian government as the first applications are processed

Requests for Help: 122


Requests for Help: 109

April 8 

Rainbow Railroad meets with Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in Canada Sean Fraser and Parliamentary Secretary Marie-France Lalonde to discuss the ongoing need for a resettlement partnership to help vulnerable LGBTQI+ Afghans get to safety in Canada.

April 25

Minister Sean Fraser appears in front of the Canadian Parliamentary Special Committee on Afghanistan, where he’s pressed on instituting direct referral partnerships to support vulnerable groups from Afghanistan 


May 20

Rainbow Railroad launches the Safe Way Out campaign to call on the Canadian government to step up and support Rainbow Railroad through a direct referring partnership. Thousands have signed.

Kimahli addresses Canada’s Special Parliamentary Committee on Afghanistan. Watch here. 

May 1

The first 14 LGBTQI+ Afghans supported by Rainbow Railroad arrive in Canada

This resettlement effort is continuing; to-date, over 150 Afghans have been resettled under this partnership with 50+ more to come

Requests for Help: 271


Requests for Help: 267

June 15

Canadian Special Parliamentary Committee on Afghanistan releases its report corresponding to the crisis in Afghanistan, echoing Rainbow Railroad’s request for a direct referring partnership with Canadian government and calling the Canadian Government to evacuate 300+ LGBTQI+ Afghans in partnership with Rainbow Railroad

Read more on the report here.


July 29

Rainbow Railroad meets with Minister Sean Fraser at his constituency office in Halifax, where Minister Fraser also meets Aseer – a trans Afghan newcomer whose resettlement was supported by Rainbow Railroad. Rainbow Railroad continues to signal the need to support more LGBTQI+ Afghans in partnership with the government

Requests for Help: 281


Our impact in the last 12 months:

Rainbow Railroad has received more than 5,400 requests for help from Afghanistan

We provided life-saving support and financial assistance to 648 people across numerous programs, including the resettlement of 247 LGBTQI+ Afghans into Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Ireland

We have done this work at a direct cost of at least $1.5 Million, with more needs imminent as we work to continue our response

Where are we now? 

We continue to provide support to individuals displaced in Afghanistan and neighboring countries, but providing cash is increasing difficult. 

Rainbow Railroad continues to operate safehouses in neighboring countries.  

We’re currently lacking routes to safety due to a lack of ongoing partnerships with governments

Help Us Continue Our Work

If you are able to make a contribution to support our continued response in Afghanistan, as well as our other work around the world helping the most vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees, please do so below.