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The Branch donates £1000 to IFJ Safety Fund for Afghanistan

LONDON FREELANCE Branch voted to donate £1000 to the International Federation of Journalists' Safety Fund Afghanistan appeal at its September meeting. Branch Treasurer Jenny Vaughan had put forward a motion, originally proposing that the Branch donate £200, a figure she had plucked "out of the air" to get it in the agenda. The Branch agreed to quintuple this after Jenny assured LFB "we could manage a thousand".

Afghan Independent Journalists' Association meeting in 2018

A meeting of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association in 2018, including LFB's Safi Tazib (wearing hat) as a guest

The Branch received an update from its equalities co-officer Safi Tazib, who made contact with journalists' unions in Kabul on behalf of LFB in 2018 and 2019. Safi confirmed that most of the journalist he'd met on his two visits to Kabul and who he'd managed to contact since the Taliban take-over were now "in hiding and have changed their numbers". It was evident that some of these journalists were now having their phones monitored by the Taliban. Safi was still "struggling to get hold of " many other colleagues in Afghanistan: "some are still unaccounted for... have they left the country? It's a frightening situation."

He expressed hope that while it's "not an easy thing to do... very tricky... very tough," it may be possible for the IFJ and others to open some kind of dialogue with the Taliban in the future. "There is a chance we could influence them" by convincing them of the "importance of a free press... to the prosperity and development of the country."

Safi reminded the Branch of Motion 96 passed at the NUJ's Delegate Meeting (conference) in May, which committed the union's National Executive Council to working "in collaboration with LFB" in its Afghanistan solidarity efforts. He added that while fundraising in response to events in Afghanistan has been "absolutely amazing... we can do more."

NEC member Tim Dawson said the NUJ's response to the Safety Fund appeal had been "quite amazing." As of the evening of 13 September, some €40,000 had been "raised, much from NUJ Branches and members", with "individual members making really, really, generous contributions."

Tim felt that "it is quite remarkable how journalists have responded to the very real threats... from the moment it became clear to us that the Taliban would take over... quite quickly." The NUJ and the IFJ were "hit by a firehose of pleas for help... for a good two or three weeks, up to the point when the Americans finally left Afghanistan." The IFJ's Jeremy Dear (a former NUJ General Secretary) has already had a meeting with the UK government on the plight of Afghanistan's journalists.

We now face the "very, very difficult task" of finding... safe houses within Afghanistan," for journalists, with "financial support very important here." What the NUJ "can do in the future" is "far more complicated", but "there is deep concern and commitment to do all that we can."

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger told the Guardian that, starting from 15 September " we will begin sending money to journalists in Kabul who need it. Every euro will be accounted for and we will be verifying that it is going to journalists and their families."

Through a Facebook group, LFB's Membership Secretary Phil Sutcliffe heard of an appeal for assistance for an Afghan journalist who had just arrived in the UK and was seeking (free) accommodation in Central London so she could at least continue doing unpaid work while her Leave to Remain application was being processed. Temporary accommodation has already been found for her. There will be more opportunities and more need for practical solidarity in the near future.