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Those Left Behind in Afghanistan; Nicaragua Crackdown. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 21, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA, SON OF FRANCISCO AGUIRRE-SACASA: I think my biggest fear is that one day we're going to get a phone call from someone
in Nicaragua that says that our father died in jail.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Crackdown on the opposition, as an authoritarian strongman destroys democracy in America's backyard.
Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, in power since 2007, wants another term. We speak to top journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro.
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You conducted the largest NEO airlift in American history in just 17 days.
AMANPOUR: While America pats itself on the back for it Afghan evacuation, what happens to all those left behind? We look at the extraordinary private
rescue of some of Afghanistan's most promising young women.
STEPHANIE LAND, AUTHOR, "MAID": Like your car not starting or a flat tire could mean that you don't pay rent that month.
AMANPOUR: Michel Martin on navigating poverty in the world's richest country with Stephanie Land, whose book "Maid" is now among the most
popular shows on Netflix.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Nicaragua's strongman Daniel Ortega's crackdown on his political opposition raises the fundamental question about democracy. Is an election actually an
election when all the challengers are in jail? As the 75-year-old seeks his fourth consecutive term, he's locked up 37 opponents and critics, so he has
no rivals for the November vote, other than a few carefully vetted, handpicked candidates.
The roundup comes under a law that has been passed by a compliant Congress. It gives Ortega power to declare citizens -- quote -- "traitors to the
homeland." He's using tactics that are all too familiar from countries like Russia, Hungary, Belarus and others.
Daniel Ortega first caught the world's attention as a leftist guerrilla, the Sandinista leader who overthrew Nicaragua's corrupt former dictator
Now, to explain how democracy is being destroyed in America's backyard, correspondent Isa Soares looks at the case of one opposition figure now
languishing in detention. He is the former Nicaragua diplomat Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa.
ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Was denied permission to leave the country, and my passport was retained." Those were the last words
Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa exchanged with his children, Georgie and Roberto, in the United States on July 27, words that shook them to their core.
R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: They took my father out of the car, and that's the last time my mom saw him until a month later, when he was in jail in Managua in
SOARES: And that's the last time anyone has seen Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa as a free man, a doting grandfather with a love for life, but also a D.C.
man at heart. Now at 77, the former Nicaraguan foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. remains behind bars in the notorious El Chipote
prison for allegedly committing acts of conspiracy and treason under a law passed last year empowering the government of Daniel Ortega to lock up
opposing voices as coup plotters and traitors to the nation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Criminals who have attacked the country.
SOARES: Charges that Georgie and Roberto, the creator of the hit series "Riverdale," say are simply baseless.
R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: And nothing concrete has been said or given to anyone who's working with my father on our father's case. So it's Kafkaesque.
SOARES (on camera): I have in my hand here the government's report on what they say is the evidence against Francisco. Now, I can't show you it, for
fear that my source could face reprisals. But I can tell you this. There's no real evidence here.
What it does indicate is that he's been arrested simply for speaking his mind. For instance, the government cites as evidence online videos where
Francisco describes U.S. sanctions against the Ortega regime as extraordinary and important.
R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: It's outrageous what's happening in the United' as backyard, as we like to say about Central America. Our father, sadly, was
caught up in those -- in that machinery.
SOARES: This very machinery has, according to Human Rights Watch, arrested 37 opposition leaders and critics since May, many of whom, says the
watchdog group, are facing human rights violations and abuses.
The State Department says Nicaragua's presidential election next month has lost all credibility. And while the E.U. and the U.S. have already imposed
some sanctions, Latin American expert Christopher Sabatini says the Biden administration can and should do more.
CHRISTOPHER SABATINI, CHATHAM HOUSE: If the U.S. cannot act on this agreed use case of human rights abuses within its own sphere of influence, it
really sends a very strong signal, not just in Nicaragua, and not just in Cuba and Venezuela, but to other aspiring autocrats throughout the
hemisphere, and, of course, globally.
For Georgie and Roberto, this isn't political. It's personal.
R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: I think my biggest fear is that one day we're going to get a phone call from someone in Nicaragua that says that our father died
GEORGIE AGUIRRE-SACASA, DAUGHTER OF FRANCISCO AGUIRRE-SACASA: So here we are speaking up for those that don't have a voice right now, hoping that
our efforts afforded us the opportunity to see him again.
AMANPOUR: Francisco's children there speaking to Isa Soares.
Now, we, of course, reached out to the Nicaraguan government for response, but have not received a reply.
Carlos Fernando Chamorro is one of Nicaragua's foremost journalists. And he's also a member of a leading opposition family. His mother, Violeta
Chamorro, defeated Daniel Ortega to become president in 1990 and Latin America's first elected female leader. Three relatives have also been
arrested in the latest Ortega crackdown.
And Chamorro himself escaped to Costa Rica, where his reporting continues.
So we welcome you from there in Costa Rica, Fernando. Thank you for being with us.
I just want to ask you first, clearly being a journalist in these times is very dangerous, not just for you, but for the people who you interview,
Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa in jail now after many interviews in which he called for these sanctions.
How does that make you feel? And what do you think is the role of yourself and journalism trying to expose what's going on right now?
CARLOS FERNANDO CHAMORRO, NICARAGUAN JOURNALIST: Well, our role is not to accept censorship or self-censorship.
I have no longer sources in Nicaragua that I can quote on the record. There is a state of terror. Nobody can -- nobody feels free to speak because of
And Francisco is just one case. There are not only 37, but 39 people in jail with those two that were captured this morning.
AMANPOUR: So even more have been captured.
So let me ask you, because some of your relatives, including two siblings, are also in jail. What -- I mean, we have sort of given a blanket
description of what's going on, that democracy is being destroyed, that no oppositional criticism is allowed.
For ordinary people, what is the result and the actual effect of the Ortega -- I don't know. Would you call it a dictatorship under the guise of
CHAMORRO: It is a brutal dictator. Ortega is responsible for the assassination of more than 300 people during the civic uprising in 2018.
People went out to the streets shouting Ortega and Somoza are the same thing. They called for free election. They called for anticipated election.
And Ortega provoked a massacre. Now we're going to have elections in two weeks, and he have put in prison literally all the opposition leaders. He
has eliminated the only two political parties.
And we will have a re -- of a one-party election for Ortega.
AMANPOUR: So, your story is fascinating, Fernando, because you -- well, you were pro-Ortega way back when. In the election of 1990, you even voted
for him. At one point, you ran a newspaper or a periodical that was a propaganda outlet for him.
And the election I'm talking about is the one your mother ran for and, in fact, won. What were you doing voting against your mother? And what
eventually turned you against Ortega? How long did it take?
CHAMORRO: Well, that was a turning point in Nicaragua's life and in my own life. I'm talking about the Sandinista revolution during the decade of '79
and the '80s that overthrew the dictatorship of Somoza. I supported that process.
And I guess, after 1990, Nicaragua had a new great opportunity for democratic transition that I also supported. I was kicked out of the
Sandinista newspaper. And I just decided to become an independent journalist, which is the thing that I have been doing for the last 25
My newsroom currently is occupied by the police for the second time. So I'm in exile now, reporting from Costa Rica.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you to broaden it out a little bit. We keep saying and the family said -- used the term in America's backyard, which is often
how Latin America -- sorry -- Central America is described.
Why should America care? What is Nicaragua's impact on the United States? What is the reason you think perhaps or others should get mobilized just to
intervene in this destruction of democracy in your country?
CHAMORRO: Well, the crisis in Nicaragua is a humanitarian crisis. It's a human rights crisis. And it's also a regional crisis, because Nicaraguans
are migrating south to Costa Rica and north towards the United States.
But the real problem, the real crisis, we have to solve it in Managua, not in Washington or in Brussels. The Nicaraguan people require to restore
freedom in order to go to free election. That's why we need international support, we need international pressure in order to restore the possibility
of national pressure to get rid of this dictatorship and to restore democracy in Nicaragua.
AMANPOUR: We have been covering some of these autocrat strongmen. Not only are we focusing on Nicaragua today, but yesterday was on Hungary. We have
seen how a lot of these democratic elections are democratic for the first time, and then they're not.
It's an excuse to manipulate and corrupt the process and stay endlessly in power. Does that sort of concern you? And what kind of alliances is Ortega
making, if any, with some of these global strongmen, who seems to be imitating?
CHAMORRO: Ortega sees himself first in the mirror of Venezuela and Cuba, but also he's an admirer of Putin and some of the orders that you just
If elections were to take place in Nicaragua today, Ortega would loose. The latest poll said that 65 percent of Nicaraguan people will vote for any of
those seven leaders who are in prison today, and only 19 would vote for Ortega. So he already lost the 7th of November election.
And that's why he has cracked down on the opposition.
AMANPOUR: Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Ecuador, where at one point he admitted the U.S. history of meddling in your region.
This is what he said about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We know that the United States has not always practiced what it preached in our hemisphere, that there are
times in our history when we supported governments in the Americas that did not reflect the choice or the will of their people and did not respect
their human rights.
Our record on partnering with the region's democracies to improve civilian security has been mixed. That's because, often, we tried to fix the problem
by relying too much on training and equipping security forces and too little on the other tools in our kit. We focused too much on addressing the
symptoms of organized crime, like homicides and drug trafficking, and too little on the root causes.
We're working to correct that imbalance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So what do you think the United States could or should do that it's not doing right now?
Of course, there's sanctions, but they don't seem to be actually harming the person they're targeted at. What do you think that the U.S. and others
could do now?
CHAMORRO: They should put all the political and economic pressure on the issue of restoring democratic freedoms in Nicaragua. That's where the
solution of the problem is.
It's not a question of sanctions. I think Ortega can stay in power for a longer period no matter the sanctions, but he cannot stay in power if
Nicaraguan people recover their freedom, in order to have freedom of reunion, freedom from mobilization, freedom of the press, freedom of
So I would expect the U.S. to act multilaterally with Latin America, with the European Union in that direction, to restore Nicaraguan democratic
The next point will be to free all the 39 political prisoners, plus 120 others who are in prison for more than two, three years.
AMANPOUR: But, I mean, I guess what is the leverage?
And I wonder whether you agree or what you might think of the following. It's an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the United States. His name
is Benjamin Gedan. And he's written this.
"Thieves and brutes in presidential palaces are another challenge compelling a constant balancing act between collaboration and censure. But
ramping up U.S. trade and investment, improving public health, and spurring renewable energy production would help solve many of the region's troubles
that sooner or later land on the U.S. doorstep."
So that's a whole step forward from just not using sanctions. It's actually talking about active investment or intervention in that kind of way with
countries like Nicaragua and others to try to change them in that way.
Do you think that has a chance?
CHAMORRO: Well, again, I insist that the challenge is mostly a challenge for Nicaraguans.
But we require international cooperation in order to weaken the control that Ortega maintains on the state, maintains on Nicaragua, having all the
political leaders in prison.
The OAS had a vote yesterday, and 26 government of the continent voted demanding deliberation of political prisoners. That should be the first
step to put all the pressure. Ortega cannot maintain all Nicaraguans in prison.
AMANPOUR: So there you are in San Jose, Costa Rica, I mean, obviously moving because you felt worried for your own safety.
Are you safe where you are? Are you continuing to report? What are you able to do where you are?
CHAMORRO: Well, we do everything remote. My TV show is under censorship. It cannot be seen in Nicaragua on open television or cable, but we use
social media in order to distribute our content.
But we are -- I'm in Costa Rica reporting in Nicaragua, and there are many ways to get information, although there is fear, and we have to protect our
sources. My newsroom was occupied by the police. My home, my own house, was raided by the police. I am accused in absence for some of these so-called
But we're still reporting. They have never been able to confiscate journalism.
AMANPOUR: And I guess just finally, you say the issue is for Managua and for the Nicaraguan people to eventually solve.
Do you have any hope that the election early next month will be anything other than a cementing of the Ortega regime?
CHAMORRO: There won't be elections properly...
CHAMORRO: ... as we understand what that means, competition, accountability, free vote.
We will have the reelection of Ortega with no competition and no guarantees. That will only aggravate the crisis. I cannot say when we will
get out of the crisis. But it's not sustainable, a dictatorship like the one of Ortega. He put in prison today to leaders of the private sector.
Who is going to invest in Nicaragua with a political dictatorship? Well, for some time, he can stay in power because there's some kind of dynamic --
a positive dynamic for the economy, but it's not sustainable.
AMANPOUR: Well, we will be watching. And thank you so much for your perspective, Carlos Fernando Chamorro.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Now, after the chaotic U.S. departure from Afghanistan, vulnerable Afghans were, of course, left behind, not just the American military translators,
but also local journalists, human rights activists, students, especially the girls.
How would they survive the return of an extremist Taliban state? That question has been asked ever since Kabul fell. Now, while America has stood
down, private citizens in the United States and around the world are standing up.
One group of volunteers has launched a heroic mission to rescue nearly 500 Afghan students, artists and more, with support from the governments of
Canada, Ecuador and Pakistan. These volunteers call themselves The Thirty Birds Foundation.
And my guests, Abuzar and Simin Royesh, help lead their efforts.
Abuzar is joining me now from Santa Clara, California, and his sister, Simin, who coordinated the risky escape within Afghanistan, joins me by
phone from a military base in Quantico, Virginia, where she's being processed for resettlement in the United States.
So, Abuzar and Simin, welcome to the program.
Abuzar, let me ask you first, how did this start? How did you -- how were you able to, under your own auspices, arrange the extraction of your own
family and then hundreds of others from Afghanistan, at the worst, most chaotic time?
ABUZAR ROYESH, FOUNDING MEMBER, THE THIRTY BIRDS FOUNDATION: Thank you, Christiane, for inviting us on this call.
So, how did this start? This started the day that Kabul fell. So I knew that I had to do something for my family, including Simin, who were all
stranded in Afghanistan. So that day, I called up a few friends, people who had been -- I knew were committed to the mission of educating girls in
And, together, this -- we became the founding members of The Thirty Birds Foundation. So we got together to help my family get to safety. So Simin
will tell a bit of that story later on.
But once -- over the next three to four days, without any sleep, all of us calling in from Colorado to U.K. to the East Coast in the U.S., we over 24
hour -- throughout 24 hours, we got in touch with State, with DOD, with any contacts that we could pull across different governments and across
different organizations to try my family to safety.
But then, once, after three or four days, we managed successfully to get my family to safety, but then we were all asking, so now what? Do we leave
behind the whole community that's left there? What about especially the girls, who are extremely vulnerable? What do we do about them?
When we asked ourselves that question, we knew that we had to stay involved. And to that end, we organized this next series of rounds of
evacuation that, over the past two months, we have taken out more than 400 girls and their families, girls who are schoolgirls, martial artists,
singers, out of the country.
Some of these students have already made it to Canada. Some of them are still in Islamabad waiting for their flight to Ecuador. But, overall, this
has been actually not just the story about our group coordinating it across time zones, but also a story of heroics, incredible stories by these girls
themselves, who on the ground facilitated this evacuation.
Overall, we -- calling in from the West, there was only little that we could do. We could provide opportunities, but it was actually these girls
who coordinated everything, self-organized, who made those life-or-death decisions to be able to organize an evacuation this massive scale, and to
get everybody safely with that knowledge of the local context to -- over border to Pakistan.
And later, and now they're in Canada and destined for Ecuador. There are a lot of stories that...
AMANPOUR: Sorry, Abuzar.
Let me ask Simin then, because she was one of those girls, your sister. She was in Afghanistan, and she could only join us by phone, because she's at
the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. And there is either no Wi-Fi or not usable Wi-Fi.
So we have got you by phone, thank goodness.
So tell me your side of the story, because you were on the other end of a phone trying -- as your brother said, you had all these people right there,
and they needed to be moved out. What did you do? How did you know what to do?
SIMIN ROYESH, AFGHAN EVACUEE: Thank you for asking this.
Actually, it was a hard time, because I was going through a series of mixed emotions while I had to make really tough decisions, not only for myself,
but also for my family.
So, on the evening of 15, I received a call from my brother and his team that we have to leave for the airport. As soon as we went to the airport, I
got out of the car to check who is controlling the airport. I was just a few meters away from the airport. Then I saw the Taliban.
And then as I walked towards them, they started shooting in the air. In that particular moment, I had to make the decision to either move forward
or take my family back to the safe house, because, imagine, I have a father who is well-recognized by everyone.
I have my mother, who is nine months' pregnant, and I have younger sisters who have never seen any armed men or any fight during their entire life.
So, I had to -- finally, I made the decision to take them back to the safe house.
And then, again, on the second day, we received another call to go to the airport. Same story. We had to pass through many checkpoints. And then the
moment we got there, we had to stay in front of the gate for hours just waiting.
A Marine comes by and takes our documents and letters inside. But, again, we waited for long. We didn't have any food, anything. My youngest sister
fainted. My mother was no more feeling well. So, again, I had to make that decision to either stay there or move back to the safe house.
I realized that I do want my family to be safe, but I don't want it to be to the cost of losing someone. So, again, I forgot about all the hours that
we went there. We went back to the safe house.
And then the third day, same story. We had to pass through multiple checkpoints to get to the airport. And as soon as I'm in front of the
gates, I see this Marine, and then next to him, there's a Talib. I have to risk showing all my documents. I have to risk speaking English, describing
the situation and how I need to get inside the airport.
And this Marine is denying. He's telling me that he's not taking any forms. I have to go and talk to the next one while this Talib is following me. So
we had to be there for 45 minutes, and not knowing what happened. Finally, this man picks up the phone, talks with our contract on the other end.
And we just wait, because we don't know what's going to happen. I remember that moment when they called our last name. I was happy. I was excited,
because I knew we are finally safe.
S. ROYESH: We are going to get somewhere.
But as soon as we entered the gate, I felt a heavy emptiness inside, because I knew this is going to be my last goodbye for a country that I
AMANPOUR: Right, and for which you had so many hopes, I guess, Simin.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask -- it's an incredible story. And it's actually chilling, the idea that three times you tried. That last time, you had to
say -- put it all out there in front of a Talib. And what if the Marine hadn't let you in?
You would have been at his mercy afterwards.
So let me just ask you, Abuzar. It is extraordinary to think that a group of private people like yourself and those who you gathered conducted and
organized these extractions. It is extraordinary. I mean, there was no official way that this was happening.
Were you expecting, I don't know, the U.S. government or other officials, the U.N. or something to help with this extraction? Did you ever imagine
that it would be left up to you? And it's not just you. It's many of these others are relying on private efforts as well.
A. ROYESH: Yes, that's a very good question.
So, at that moment because of the chaos that was going on, we knew that nobody had a plan for how to manage that situation. And for me, honestly, I
couldn't sit back and wait, because it was a matter of my family, my friends, people that I really cared about.
And to add to that, yes, actually, in the first evacuation that my family got out, we did manage to get in touch with the people from the State
Department, from DOD, who really helped us in getting that -- our family to safety.
Apart from that, we know -- we also -- for the bigger group of 400 people that we helped, for that, we got in touch with governments of Canada,
Ecuador, Pakistan, who very graciously offered us these visas. So this was not an effort of just us, the few of us who were organizing this, but
rather a story of tens of people who came together at that crucial moment to help us.
And also, to add to that, it was the story of these girls, who actually trusted us with their lives and to ask us for this. We reached out people
at the U.N. We reached out people in a lot of different countries, at nonprofits, anybody that we could reach.
This was like 20 -- us being 24 hours on Zoom calls and WhatsApps, everybody on our team, in our small team of about eight to 10 people. And
we couldn't have done it if it hadn't been for help from all these people.
But we also knew that, at the end of the day, we were the ones who are responsible for this group, because the groups that we're trying to help,
they're not your typical SIVs. They're not P-1s, P-2s (AUDIO GAP) be left behind.
And if it's not for us, they wouldn't have another advocate for them on the ground. So, to that end, we honestly did not have a choice to wait for the
U.N. or wait for the U.S. to organize something, because I knew they also had a lot on their hands, and there was little people could do to manage
the situation on the ground.
AMANPOUR: A lot on the hands, indeed, as we all witnessed for those dreadful, dreadful first weeks. And it's clearly still going on.
Simin, you, as I said, are at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. And I want to know what it's like for you there.
And, particularly, first, let me ask you, because you wrote about the threats that you felt you were under when you were trying to petition to
This is what you wrote: "Living under the Taliban would mean giving up my future, my dreams, my career, and even my life. I will not be able to have
access to the values that I have fought for my life. I am forced -- if I'm forced to give up these values, then who am I?"
It was really a real existential matter for you and for all those girls, right, Simin? You had to get out in order to be able to survive as a woman
in this world.
S. ROYESH: Yes, exactly. I told you earlier that it was a really difficult situation. I was this young ambitious girl who had just graduated from
college in the U.S. I went back to Afghanistan because I wanted to contribute to the education sector. But just months after I'm there, I know
that this country is not what I expected. So, I have to make the decision to leave it again.
And, for example, on August 15, when I was on my way to the embassy to get my visa, I saw all these men who would look at me and tell me this is your
last day on this peaceful Kabul. And luckily, tomorrow, the Taliban will come and you wouldn't be able to walk with bare face. That was a hard
moment for me and I knew that I can't live in that country.
Right now, that I'm in Quantico Airbase, this is maybe something I did not choose for. I even did not dream about being an immigrant because in my
family, I am the second immigrant -- you know, like wave of immigrant -- immigration that I have experience. I was born in exile. I was in Pakistan
and then, I moved back to Afghanistan. So, I never imagined that I experienced the thing that my father and mother did.
But luckily, in the other hand, I do know that right now I'm in safe hands. I'm really looking forward to the future and all the amount of support
these people are giving us. And I'm really optimistic about the young generation of Afghans who have come outside Afghanistan and now, they have
the opportunity to live their life the way they want. They have the opportunity to get education. They have the opportunity to raise their
voice, to raise awareness amongst other people. So, I do hope this new generation, including me, someday we go back to the country and we take
charge of it. So, that's what --
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask -- yes. So, the U.S. military, they call this thing Operation Allies Welcome, this relocating so many Afghans to various
military bases while they process them and get their papers fixed. Apparently, some 55,000 people are currently at U.S. military bases known
as safe havens across eight sites.
But, while they are waiting, and they are the lucky ones, like you say, Simin, like yourself, there's so many, including so many girls. And Abuzar,
you must be thinking about this as well, left behind. You know, you felt that maybe some of your sisters could be married off to the Taliban. And
I've listened to interviews with desperate, desperate young girls who are left there and whose enlightened fathers want to maybe marry them off to
the Taliban right now because that will put them in good stead with the new rulers of this country.
So, all to ask you, I mean, how much risk is there to these young girls who are left behind right now? Are we -- go ahead. How much risk is there?
A. ROYESH: Yes. That's a very --
S. ROYESH: I'm sure it's a great risk for those of us who are not inside the country and we are just following everything that's on the news. And I
wish there was more we could do. Based on what we have been hearing on the news, the Taliban hasn't showed much mercy and much change from the last
time that they were in power.
So, I do have great fear and sympathy for all those who are left behind and I do know it's a great danger for them. So, that's why everyone is looking
for ways desperately to get out of the country. And even this Thirty Birds Foundation is also trying to save as many girls as possible. But there is
so little that we could do.
I do know it's difficult for them, but I wish there was a way that we could save them. And also, the only thing that makes me a little bit optimistic
is how the pressure the International Community can put on the Taliban so at least they are not allowed to make the situation harder than what it is
for those left behind.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Abuzar. Thirty Birds Foundation, it's named after a Persian poem, I think. Why have you called it that?
A. ROYESH: Yes. So, this is -- 30 birds as a reference to a story from a Persian mythology about this group of birds that were -- that took this
long arduous journey in search of enlighten, in search of knowledge only to find out that that story, that knowledge lies within them. And the reason
we have called ourself this is, is that our group is basically this. You know, we -- the people that we are trying to help, these girls are the
leaders of current and future leaders of Afghanistan.
You know, to earlier question when you asked about, you know, how the -- this decision the girls had to make, especially after our first, you know,
rounds of evacuation when some people got to know about what we were doing, we had this story of this mother from another province in Afghanistan who
reached out to somebody on our team, said that, you know, I don't know you guys, but please take my girl with you. You know, as long as she's safe and
she can get an education, I don't care where she is. I trust you guys to take care of her.
And this was the story of many, many families. In the beginning, you know, we have a lot of girls in our list who are not accompanied by their
families because their families have trusted us and they just want their people to be safe. We have this incredible story.
AMANPOUR: Sorry. Let me -- just in the last 45 seconds that we have, these are incredible stories and you have done a huge amount to get so many
people out. But what do they need now? I mean, they're going to have to have lives that require paying for. I mean, this is a costly situation.
Even though governments like Canada, Ecuador, Pakistan are accepting them, what do you need now and how are you going to get it?
A. ROYESH: Yes. That's why we set up the Thirty Birds Foundation because we are not only just planning for their evacuation, but also their
resettlement, their education. There are all -- there are a number of initiatives that we're currently working with different governments on
this. And what we need is actually support from the people, because this has been a very grassroot led initiative. And for that, we need help from
anybody who can offer help.
This -- you know, our plan is to not only take them out of the country, but to make sure that tomorrow they have a platform that this community stays
together and that they become, you know, the leaders that Afghanistan deserves. That is our ask.
AMANPOUR: So, is the Thirty Birds Foundation and, you know, they need our help. Abuzar and Simin Royesh, thank you both so much. It is an incredible
And we turn now to another one, a story of strength and resilience. A new gut-wrenching Netflix show based on Stephanie Land's memory "Maid: Hard
Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive." It is making waves. The series exposes the harsh realities of living below the poverty line in
America as it follows a young mother's fight to escape an abusive relationship. It's attracting a huge audience. And here is Stephanie Land
speaking with Michel Martin about her journey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Stephanie Land, thank you so for joining us.
STEPHANIE LAND, AUTHOR, "MAID": Thank you for having me. This is really incredible.
MARTIN: Well, I was going to ask you about that. Like, how do you wrap your head around this? I mean, a couple years ago, you were cleaning out
folk's dirty dishes and worse. And now, gosh, you're the source material. You provided the source material for a hit series. It's going to be one of
the most successful that Netflix has ever put on. How to you wrap your head around that?
LAND: The amount of good reception that the series has just received has just been really surprising to me, honestly. Not only like a huge relief,
but it's really surprising and really incredible to see how many other stories are coming out and how much people are talking about their own
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to get you off the streets. There's it beds at the domestic violence shelter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In hear, you can breathe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Alex. I'm trying to piece together how I got here.
My mom is undiagnosed bipolar and she's MIA right now. I got into college. I wanted to be a writer. But I got pregnant. Now, I'm a single mom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're broke.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got a problem with a background check?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a trial.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I'm starting today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's good news ability it, broke girl?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We composed. The bin is labeled composed. Can you read or should I show you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can read.
MARTIN: One thing that the book makes clear and that the T.V. series, I think, makes very clear for people who have never experienced this is just
how close to the edge you can be and just how every financial decision can have a consequence, you know, every financial decision has to be so
carefully thought through. Like -- you know, like when you're poor, you can never make a mistake, right? And I just wondered if you just talk a little
bit about that or how you navigated that.
LAND: It always struck me that people would say that poor people need to learn how to budget. Because I was constantly budgeting in my head. The --
how the series did, the little -- the numbers going down the side, that was very accurate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uniform is $25. It comes out of your first check.
LAND: I remember standing in the grocery store and deciding whether or not I could afford a $2 sponge. And I was going through, not just my bank
account, but like the two credit cards I had, like when is the payment going to post. Do I have anything left in there? And it was for a sponge.
And I didn't get it. Because, you know, I remembered that I needed tampons or, you know, something like that.
And when you're that close all the time, every decision is huge. You know, not even being -- like your car not starting or a flat tire could mean that
you don't pay rent that month. And it's such a precariousness and it's stressful. I mean, it's -- I think IQ is lowered cognitively by like 20
points just from being in poverty. And people don't think about that very often, I don't think, anymore. We don't talk about that as much. Just how
much stress can affect a person. And when you're constantly in survival mode, when, you know, you're sitting up at night suddenly wondering like,
oh, my goodness. Am I going to have enough to pay the electric bill? And it's the middle of winter. What am I going to do?
Because there's -- it's not like you can just go get money from somewhere. And in my case, I couldn't borrow money from people. I couldn't ask my
family for money. Even if it was $10.
MARTIN: Your book is about, you know, so many things. I mean, honestly, we could just talk for hours about all the threads that you tie together. You
were in a relationship that was emotionally abusive. Could you just talk a little bit about what the impact of the relationship was and what the --
what resulted after you left, like what happened after you left it?
LAND: The thing that caught me off guard was standing in court. And he -- the judge was going to it decide whether or not to it grant my no contact
order or order of protection. And he looked at my statement, which included all of the threats, you know, the punching out, the glass and the door,
lots -- it included a lot of things that I didn't put in the book. And he said a reasonable person would not feel threatened.
And so, I was called unreasonable in court. And then, he went on to call my abuser the more stable parent because he had the full-time job, he had the
house that I had just left and he had the ability to take care of my kid. And I was homeless and didn't have a job. Hadn't had a job in a year
because I was raising my baby. And so, suddenly, it was like I was the bad person for removing my child from a dangerous situation.
That stuck with me for a long time. I mean, even -- I didn't really focus on the emotional abuse in the book mainly because I knew my kid was going
to read it and I didn't really think he deserved space on the page. But since the series has come out and that is such a focus of the series, I
have been talking about it a lot more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do everything for you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before they hit you, they hit near you.
LAND: It's been 15 years. And I don't really think about him at all. But since I have been talking about it a lot and the abuse that I experienced,
a lot has come up for me just in how it makes me feel and, you know, just kind of watching my body kind of remember a lot of what happened.
MARTIN: Well, one of the things I found so profound, frankly, about it is that this is so -- I think it's so profound is you're doing the very thing
that the society tells you you're supposed to do, which is to take care of your child. And then, as a consequence of taking care of your child, you
are told you are worthless or not stable. So, what are you supposed to do?
LAND: I heard all things. I heard that I should have stayed to make it work because it's better for kids to have two parents around. Of course,
that I shouldn't have chosen that person -- I shouldn't have chosen an abusive person in the first place, and like I knew he was going to do that.
And so, it was always my fault. To one ever said, man, that guy was a really bad guy. I'm sorry. It was -- it's always something that I did to
bring it on myself.
MARTIN: Your book is about relationships on the one hand and how fraught relationships, abusive relationships can just bring a person down to the
point where they really feel like they are at the bottom. But it's also about the programs that are supposed to help people who are at their lowest
and why they don't. So, let's just start with child care. A lot of the jobs that you could get, lilke why didn't the child care grants work for you?
LAND: Well, a lot of the day cares don't accept them because the grant only pays -- I'm not sure what exactly it is, but something like 80 percent
of the total bill. And so, a lot of the time I would either be left with a big co-pay or they just wouldn't accept the grant. And the thing that they
do is you have to already be established at a job in order to get the grant.
And so, how I got around that was I started landscaping for a friend of mine and traded off. I took the mornings and my friend took the afternoons,
another single mom in town. And so, I was -- I did that for two or three weeks and was able to show and have some kind of evidence that I was
actually working and that was when they gave me part-time voucher for child care. That was only in the afternoons and didn't cover school hours that I
was planning to do because, of course, that isn't covered.
And it was my biggest headache, but also my biggest fear of losing because if I didn't have child care, then I couldn't work. And then, we faced not
having a home very fast.
MARTIN: And then, what about food stamps?
LAND: Yes. So, the thing about food stamps is if it you get a 25 cent an hour raise, that could mean that you could possibly lose your food stamps
because you have gone over the limit for income or getting that raise could mean you lose $150 a month in your food stamp amount. And the way that they
do the means testing, you know, you're not allowed -- most states you're not allowed to have $2,500 or $3,000 in assets, and that includes your car
And the way that they go about asking questions on the forms is -- you know, they ask me if I had a burial plat somewhere or how many items in my
house were worth more than $500. And just -- it's just really demeaning and degrading just right off the bat. And then, you have to prove that you're
working all the time.
MARTIN: Talking about food stamps, there's some scenes in the book that just really are just sickening where people just because you're paying with
food stamps, people feel like they can have opinions about what you're buying.
LAND: Yes. There's one scene in the book where I am using WIC checks and it's called a Women, Infants, and Children program. You get a lot of milk
and cheese and some peanut butter and grape juice and some cereal. It's not much, but it really helps. And I had a voucher that was for organic milk.
And they hadn't -- they had already updated their system and cash register but it wasn't the end of the month yet. And so, I decided to fight for this
organic milk that I had a coupon for.
And, you know, the manager had to get involved. It was kind of a scene. And as I was leaving, as we were pulling -- as I was pulling my cart out of the
aisle or cashier station, the man behind me in line said, you're welcome. And it just always seems like there was that kind of attitude that the
person in line behind me felt like they were personally buying my groceries with their tax money when really the food stamp budget is something like
1.5 percent of the national budget
MARTIN: And then, you know, you talk about just the way it makes you feel. And that kind of ties into the other things that you talk about in the
book, the relationships and feeling so sort of beaten down that you don't even know who you are anymore in a way. Why is that?
LAND: Well, I think, first, you know, America is very work focused. And we are especially work focused on the people that we tell them, you know, pull
yourself up by the boot straps. And tell them, if it you work hard enough, then you will have some success in this country. But the other hand of that
is, if they are not having some success, then they are just not working hard enough.
And we put so much of our dignity as human beings in the work that we to. And I really felt like I was -- I only had worth or value when I was
working. And the type of jobs that I could find didn't pay me enough to live. But I was told, oh, well, you're just not doing enough. You just need
to work harder. And it was just such a backwards statement because they didn't realize that, no, I just -- I wasn't getting paid enough. I didn't
have any benefits at all. I couldn't even call in sick most days.
MARTIN: In fact, you write about that. You write about how you would put an ad out every now and again say, I'm a professional cleaner, but I'm not
making enough to make ends meet. And people would respond. That I found so fascinating. Because on the one hand, people could be so mean and so
terrible. On the other hand, you know, you write about that too. How sometimes people would step up and reach out.
LAND: Yes, the one that I think you were thinking of is I did a move-out clean and she just handed me $100 in cash. And it was the most money I had
seen in cash in so long. And immediately, turned to my kid ask asked if they wanted a happy meal, which was a huge treat. It was really incredible.
I think not only to have those moments where I felt like I was actually doing it and I was doing it on my own and I was -- you know, I'm doing it.
I can pay my bill this is month.
But it was also just that someone treated me like a human being. And saw me as a human being and weren't upset that I had to bring my kid to the walk-
through and had some compassion and empathy. And that was really rare.
MARTIN: We're in a society now where people talk about these like microaggressions at work and talk about, you know, emotional abuse that
people can experience and talk about work -- toxic workplaces. But I wonder why it is -- it just seems like when it comes seems to somebody who is of
low income, who doesn't have a lot of means to sort of, you can't quit, you can't leave, that there doesn't seem to be an acknowledgement that there
are forms of harm that don't necessarily leave bruises, right?
LAND: Well, I think even though low-wage workers and especially domestic workers are the foundation of every other job in this country, they are
also the jobs that nobody else wants to do. And so, I think that's a lot of the reason why government assistance programs keep people in poverty is to
keep that, you know, level of economy running successfully. And it's easier to assume that that population -- you know, I think there's a lot of racism
with government assistance programs and poverty, and I think that comes into play a lot.
My experience is a very privileged one. And I -- you know, I was doing the jobs that I was doing and experiencing that level of violence, but at the
same time, I was a white person experiencing that. And, you know, black and brown women or women of color or immigrants, they have a much worse
experience than it did. And I think for some politicians, that's done with purpose.
MARTIN: What do you hope your story does now that it's in the world in so many ways?
LAND: Well, I mean, besides like helping the one person not feel alone, I have always hoped that the story would open doors for other stories,
especially stories that are much more marginalized than mine. Lately, I have seen that it -- people are angry about the story because it's a white
person who is telling the story and not -- you know, the majority of domestic workers are people of color. And I'm actually really appreciating
that people are talking about how angry that makes them.
Because normally, nobody is really allowed to be angry if you're poor or a very marginalized person in this society. So, I just -- I really like
seeing all of the emotions that are coming out and all the discussions. A lot of survivors are talking about their experiences when before that was
totally taboo. You never talked about that for fear that your abuser would see it and you'd have some retaliation. It seems like people are a little
bit more brave to talk about their lives. And that was not something I wanted or expected going into this, but it's something that I see and it's
MARTIN: Stephanie Lamb, thank you so much for talking to me.
LAND: Thank you so much for having me. This was a really good conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Necessary conversation.
And finally, a just reward for speaking out. This week, Russian opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, won the prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of
through. The European Union's top human rights award. Of course, Navalny is not able to accept in person because he, too, is languishing his time in a
Russian jail, like the Nicaraguan opposition leaders we were talking about earlier. This after Navalny was poisoned in an assassination attempt just
over a year ago. Now, announcing the prize, the E.U. called, again, for Navalny's immediate release.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEIDI HAUTALA, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT VICE PRESIDENT: Alexei Navalny has showed great courage in his attempt to restore the freedom of choice to the
Russian people. For many years, he has fought for human rights and fundamental freedom in his country. This has cost him his freedom and
nearly his life. On behalf of the European Parliament, I call for his immediate and unconditional release.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, the Sakharov Prize highlights the extraordinary work people do under incredible pressure. Other nominees this year included a group of
Afghan women fighting for equality.
That is it for now. Good-bye from London.