Summia Tora from Afghanistan, at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government

After saving her father, the first Afghan Rhodes Scholar is determined to do more.

Using her connections, Summia Tora was able to smuggle her father and an uncle out of Kabul. As she put it, helping other Afghan refugees may take up the most of my life.

Summia Tora began to worry about her father five days after the Taliban conquered Kabul. She had been up practically non-stop trying to get him on an evacuation flight, and she had exhausted every possible avenue. Because of his lack of a special immigration visa, American officials never offered him a place on an elite military plane.

It was at that point that Ms. Tora, 24, sat down and cried for the first time. Why? "Because I knew that my father had no way out." "He was stymied.

One thing, though, set her dad apart from thousands of other desperate Afghans: he was a doctor. When his daughter became the first Afghan woman to receive a Rhodes scholarship, he was thrilled. On Aug. 24, she was able to get her father and uncle seats on a non-American military jet that left Kabul with the use of connections she made at Oxford University and with a foundation sponsored by Eric Schmidt, the wealthy former chief executive officer of Google.

Afghan-born academic Summia Tora at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University.
Afghan-born academic Summia Tora at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University.

Mrs. Tora hopes to see her father in southern Europe in the near future. As a precaution, she asked that his complete name and location not be revealed to safeguard his privacy. "Most of the remainder of my life," she says, will be occupied by her next mission after she finishes her master's degree at Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government in a month.

Frau Tora is launching an organization to assist in the evacuation of Afghans and the resettlement of Afghan refugees now living in Qatar, Albania, and other countries across the world. You may find out more about Dosti Network by visiting their website: What does Dosti imply in Urdu?

When asked about her father's help, Ms. Tora acknowledged the importance of dramatic stories like his, but said she was determined to move the focus to more mundane matters, like getting regular Afghans the papers they need for a new start in life.

As Ms. Tora said, "we need to think about the individuals we've left behind and ask hard questions." Some of the applicants do not have a Rhodes scholar as a daughter, and thus do not have an Oxford network.

Afghan-led efforts to extricate people from countries where they no longer feel safe are few and few between. Wealthy Afghans have volunteered the use of planes in Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, and other locations. One of the most notable is the Schmidt Futures Foundation of Michael Schmidt, which coordinated an airlift of 150 people and plans to evacuate more in the future.

Assisting afghan refugees at a Qatari residential complex
Assisting afghan refugees at a Qatari residential complex

Some groups are counting on Kabul's airport resuming commercial flights. A number of people are looking at overland ways to Pakistan or other nearby countries. For the most part, they are operating under the radar in order to prevent Taliban reprisals.

According to Yalda Hakim, an Afghanistan-born BBC journalist who runs her own foundation, "It feels like the Afghan Diaspora has come together out of a sense helplessness." Hakim also arranged for three female students from the American University in Afghanistan to travel together on the same flight with Ms. Tora's father.

Future evacuations will face many challenges: As the Taliban strengthen their hold on Afghanistan, checkpoints are popping up all over the place. Due to the lack of American soldiers guarding the airport, and the fact that air traffic control operations have yet to be restored, flights from Kabul are not currently an option for travelers.

She added that, "even if commercial flights are resumed, passengers will still have to go through Taliban vetting." No guarantee exists that they won't injure anybody.

The anecdote of her father highlights the dangers. Taliban fighters arrived to his residence the day after he was finally allowed to enter Kabul's airport, she added. It was well known that her father worked with contractors for the United States Agency for International Development as a wholesale merchant of dried fruit and nuts.

Kabul's international airport was packed with Afghans wanting to exit the country last month.
Kabul's international airport was packed with Afghans wanting to exit the country last month.

Afghanistan's new rulers were also attracted to him because of his increased profile, her work with Afghan and Pakistani children, and a GoFundMe campaign she set up to seek money to help evacuate her father, which raised more than $50,000. After a couple of days, the Taliban freed one of the closest friends of her father.

In her own words, "I made a lot of noise around my father." For this reason, it was impossible for me to go to bed and rest since I knew that if anyone in my family or friends were hurt, it was because of the work I've been doing.

Mr. Schmidt's team worked for three days to find a flight for her father, even after he arrived at the airport. An offer of $60,000 from an Oxford private military contractor was turned down by Ms. Tora, who refused to grant him the seat.

In terms of the problems that lie ahead, she has no illusions. This isn't the first time that Ms. Tora and her Uzbek family have had to leave Afghanistan. She grew up in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where she shared a house with four other families, before obtaining a scholarship to attend a high school in New Mexico as a high school student. Afterwards, she enrolled at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. As a result of the legacy of its namesake, 19th-century imperialist Cecil Rhodes, who's white supremacist ideas are seen by some as a forerunner to apartheid, Ms. Tora first balked at even applying for a Rhodes scholarship.

Mrs. Tora hopes to see her father in southern Europe in the near future.
Mrs. Tora hopes to see her father in southern Europe in the near future.

Although the fellowship was originally confined to men from the United States, Germany, and Commonwealth countries, she believed she could leverage its status and connections to advance her work with Afghan refugees, a country regarded as the graveyard of empires.

In a rare moment of laughter she said: "Cecil John Rhodes wouldn't be delighted about this."

A volunteer in Afghan refugee and asylum seeker shelters, Tora spent five months in Greece in 2019. Afghanistan's fall had pushed her plans for a return to Pakistan, where she would work with refugees. It's now possible for her to travel anyplace in the world where Afghans are waiting to be rehoused, she adds.

Miss Tora remarked, "The entire narrative surrounding this situation has been one of sorrow for Afghans". Our dignity and respect should be equal.