Young Afghan Peace Workers on their Way to Safety

Dorothy Scott, Victoria Regional Meeting, in collaboration with Dale Hess, Victoria Regional Meeting, Rosemary Morrow, New South Wales Regional Meeting, and Alan Clayton, Victoria Regional Meeting

Australian Friends have enthusiastically responded to the call from an international network of peace activists and permaculturalists to find places of safety for a group of young Afghan peace workers whose lives were seriously endangered after the return to power of the Taliban in 2021. At that time the Australian Government promised humanitarian visas for vulnerable Afghans. This never happened.

For more than a decade our Friends Rowe Morrow, Martin Reusch and Dale Hess have been working with and supporting this group of young people in Kabul doing humanitarian work. When an opportunity arose in Portugal in the city of Mértola with the environmental group Terra Sintrópica (which works to meet the challenges of desertification and depopulation in the region), the Afghan Refugee Project was born.

Eight young Afghan peace workers arrived in Mértola in March 2022 and the project has been hailed as an innovative model based on mutual benefit to both the refugees and their host community. It is based on permaculture principles, with the young Afghan friends restoring the land and acquiring practical skills while learning a new language and receiving comprehensive support to promote their successful integration. Our Portuguese partners told us:

“We have been working at the farm daily. Our friends are having practical and theoretical sessions about Agroecology, Permaculture and Syntropic agriculture with António (the farmer), Eunice and Pedro. They are gaining new knowledge and skills every day. And the farm regeneration work is evolving rapidly due to their dedicated help! They prepared this parcel of land below for planting in April, planted in early May…”


“And this is how it looks now. It’s full of beans, tomatoes, egg plants, sun flowers, basil, corn… and much more!”

This pioneering and holistic approach to the resettlement of refugees offers a model for other cities and countries. The Portuguese High Commissioner for Migration has taken a special interest in the program and was so impressed with what was occurring in Mértola that he offered to make additional visas available. This led to a new partnership with InPulsar, an NGO in Leiria in central Portugal. And that is how a door opened for a group of 17 young Afghan peace workers who had escaped to Pakistan and who were living under deteriorating conditions (including the risk of imprisonment or being forcibly returned to Afghanistan for those unable to obtain Pakistani visas).

Raising the funds for their travel to Portugal and for an intensive, twelve-month resettlement program was a major international effort. A number of North American organisations and individuals contributed to raising these funds, and generous support was received from the company Lush Cosmetics. Australian Quaker organisations have also been instrumental in helping to make these projects a reality, and we give thanks to the Thanksgiving Fund, the Quaker Peace & Social Justice Fund, the Nancy Shelley Bequest Fund, the Victoria Quaker Fund, Quaker Service Australia, and individual Quakers who have generously supported our work. We are also deeply grateful to the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice & Community Education for their support, and most recently the Jan de Voogd Peace Fund.

On 18 February this year, the group of 17 arrived in Portugal, with their friends living in Mértola travelling to Lisbon to warmly welcome them.

The Afghan Team from Mértola joining the new arrivals from Pakistan for Sunday
lunch in the park in Leiria, Portugal.

Rowe Morrow subsequently received this message from one of the young men.

We are glad that we are safe and able to pursue our dreams here in Portugal. We also appreciate how being in a developed country can help us contribute to Afghanistan in different ways. We are honoured to be among the few people in Afghanistan who understand the importance of permaculture, and we will continue to promote its principles wherever we go. Permaculture teachings have been life-changing, and we are forever grateful for this knowledge shared with us. We were happy to help with the evacuation efforts from Pakistan, and we are proud to have been a part of the effort to bring people to safety. It was a challenging experience, but it was also a reminder of how we can come together as a community to support one another.


Where to from here?

Another 29 Afghan former peace workers are desperate to follow in their footsteps. We are now working closely with the Asociación Yaran, a civil society organisation in Spain’s north-western province, Galicia, dedicated to helping Afghans resettle in their region, with the goal of resettling them there.

The plan is for them to be part of the Avada Sociedade Cooperativa Galega, a multidisciplinary cooperative dedicated to education through organisation of summer camps, volunteer programs, language immersion projects, workshops, sports events and international cooperatives. The Spanish Government, influenced by the success of the projects in Portugal, has indicated its willingness to grant student visas to the group of 29 young Afghans, but to secure the visas we need to raise the funds to get them to Spain and to support them for their first twelve months.

We are now asking individual Friends if they could help make this happen. Tax-deductible donations can be made to:

Account Name:            Edmund Rice Community Services Limited
Account:                        10059009
BSB:                                062128
Reference:                   Afghanistan Refugee Project

Please also send an email to  with deposit details, the Code ERCJE 2023 – 115, and your name, address, and telephone number for receipting.  If Friends have any questions, please contact Dale Hess, Rowe Morrow, Alan Clayton or Dorothy Scott.


Sustaining Hope

The young former peace workers and humanitarian volunteers still waiting to go to a safe country have endured a great deal – the loss of their families and homeland, and for most, persecution due to being Hazaras, a Shia minority among the Sunni majority in Afghanistan. They have suffered a long period of uncertainty while the international group works hard to find a pathway to a peaceful place for them. This is taking a heavy emotional toll on them.

To support this remarkable group of young Afghans through this ordeal, a “buddy system” has been established so that regular contact and emotional support can be offered on a one-to-one basis. This is very much a two-way process and those of us participating in this feel honoured to develop deep inter-generational and inter-faith friendships with such inspiring young people.

Alan Clayton and Dorothy Scott recently had a conversation with the young couple they support and who have been in hiding, waiting in Pakistan for over a year. They recited in Persian their favourite quote from the thirteenth century poet Rumi, in the language in which it was written.

In this earth
in this soil
in this pure field,
Let us not plant any seeds
other than seeds of compassion and love.

 Eight hundred years on, the words of Rumi speak to our condition.

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