“I preferred to die before leaving my family behind”: How Reza Kateb escaped Kabul after four evacuation attempts

When Kabul fell on August 15, Reza Kateb knew that he had no choice but to flee his homeland. 

Taliban threats have followed Reza throughout his career. A long-time advocate of education, culture, and gender equality, Reza has served as the chair of the Marefat Civil Capacity Building Organization (MCCBO) and a board member of the Mother Trust Organization, an NGO that tackles drug addiction on the streets of Kabul. 

During his time at Marefat, Reza worked hard to establish an adult literacy high school that promoted “free thinking”, and its music band that featured “more women than men” was a particular point of pride for him. With the help of the National Endowment For Democracy, he also launched the SA TV channel during the pandemic that worked to educate and entertain the public. 

Prior to his community work, Reza had served in international organizations and the Afghan government. He represented the Interior Ministry as part of delegations visiting the Pentagon and the NATO headquarters in Brussels. This made him a target for the Taliban who branded him “a spy of the West” and “an infidel”. They issued an open call for his killing in 2017 and top Taliban official Zabiullah Majahid sent him direct threats on Twitter. Still, Reza persisted in his mission to support human rights and remained open in his critique of the Taliban. 

His wide range of experiences made him a sought-after expert on Afghanistan by media in Canada and the USA. He worked in an advisory capacity with CTV News Executive Producer Rosa Hwang and was a fixer for Jessica Stone, a reporter based out of Washington D.C.

Aware of the Taliban’s growing power, Reza had been weighing his options for a life abroad for most of 2021. Just days before Kabul’s fall, he had asked colleagues at Marefat to hide their organization’s valuable assets. But nothing could have prepared him for the events of August 15, Reza says.

He left his home that same day and spent weeks dodging the Taliban from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif and back as he moved from shelter to shelter with his family. His family had several near encounters with the Taliban and missed the Kabul airport suicide bombing by a few hours. Reza even suffered a beating during one of his many trips to the airport. His wife Gul Afroz pleaded with him to leave Afghanistan on his own, but he would not relent. 

Although I received many threats from the Taliban, I preferred to die before leaving my family behind,” he said.

After four unsuccessful evacuation attempts, Reza and his family were finally transferred to a third country in October with JHR’s help. “JHR was always helping us and replying to our messages and concerns even when it was past midnight in Canada. I cannot find the words to thank them,” Reza said.  

Reza and family are currently waiting for visas to travel to Canada. Although safe from immediate danger, uncertainty still looms.

Still, he is optimistic that he will be able to build on his work without fear for his family’s safety in Canada. “Canada will be home for me, Gul Afroz, my wife and three children, as we all deserve to live a peaceful life there… I hope to settle in Toronto and do a certification in Project Management as I have several years of managerial skills and worked with international organizations. I am also keen to pursue a Ph.D. in the modern history of Afghanistan or policy sciences.

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